Dealing with chronic pain can be a daily challenge for a senior, and the countless myths surrounding this type of pain don’t make it any easier for them. Let’s sort through some of those myths.

Myth #1. Pain is a natural side effect of aging.

There is a difference, however, between the pain associated with normal wear and tear on the body and chronic pain. Chronic pain is pain that lasts for more than three months and typically results from an illness or injury. The pain interferes with your daily activities, and can lead to depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

If you are experiencing chronic pain, don’t try to merely “tough it out.” Ignoring it can result in serious consequences, especially if you decide to self-medicate to ease the pain. Instead, please consult your physician.

Myth #2. Exercise will cause further injury if you are in pain.

Exercises, particularly those recommended in physical therapy, can provide a successful rehabilitation from dealing with chronic pain. Light to moderate exercise can even help to reduce stress, as well as improve blood and oxygen flow to muscles. Your physician or a therapist will be able to help determine the type and intensity of exercise that works for you.

Myth #3. Needing higher doses of pain medication means the medicine isn’t working anymore.

Experts say that if you are taking the correct medication as directed and you feel you need a higher dosage, it just may mean the origins of your pain are progressing. The need to adjust a medication does not necessarily indicate that it is not working.

Myth #4. Pain only occurs at the site of an injury.

There is a phenomenon called referred pain, which occurs when the pain you feel in one part of your body is being caused by pain or injury in a different part of your body. It happens because the nerves in your body are connected. Sometimes when the brain receives a nerve signal due to a pain stimulus, it will send a pain signal to a different part of your body. Consult a physician if you cannot attribute the pain you are feeling to an illness or injury.

Myth #5. Everyone who takes an opioid for more than a few days becomes addicted.

Opioids like Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and Morphine are powerful pain-killing drugs that require users to be under close supervision of a physician. These are typically recommended only after other pain medications have been tried, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibuprofen), or prescription drugs like Voltaren. These drugs treat pain by lessening inflammation at the injury site.

Opioids work directly on the central nervous system. There are many downsides to opioids, most notably addiction. However, there are situations where they may be the first line of defense against chronic pain.

Consult with your physician to explore if opioids are the best option for you.

The signs of opioid addiction include:

  • An increase in dosage over a short period of time
  • Finishing the medication much faster than prescribed
  • Taking the medication ritually, rather than only when there is pain
  • Sedated and confused behavior most of the day
  • Irritability and intolerance around others
  • Receiving medications from more than one source
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms

Myth #6. Patients taking narcotics become dependent and can never stop.

While being cautious and following physician recommendations is extremely important, addiction does not necessarily have to follow. When the source of pain is eliminated, you should be able to taper off the pain medication under physician supervision. This strategy will help prevent the symptoms of abrupt withdrawal from a medication.

The Price of Dealing with Chronic Pain

Dealing with chronic pain is not fatal, but it can diminish your quality of life. It may rob you of going to the places you want to go, spending time with the people you love, and exploring hobbies and interests. Don’t accept it as a life sentence. With the help of your physician, there are many ways to combat it.

Explore Bethesda’s health and wellness blog for more tips on chronic pain management.