5 ways to ease chronic pain and boost quality of life

More than 30% of Canadians 75 and older are affected by chronic pain that lasts for more than three months, according to Statistics Canada. Among Canadian seniors, chronic pain is more common than diabetes, heart disease, cataracts or the effects of stroke.

If left untreated, chronic pain can make life challenging and limit activities for older adults. More than half of Canadians with severe chronic pain reported it interfered with most of their regular activities, says Statistics Canada.

The National Public Health Survey also suggests that chronic pain contributes to unhappiness. According to the results, Canadian seniors who experienced increases in pain over two years were much more likely to be unhappy than those who didn’t.

New guidelines on pain relief

New recommendations for treating chronic pain, developed by McMaster University and published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal this year, warn against the use of potentially addictive prescription pain medications, such as opioids, as a mainstay treatment.

Medicine backgroundAs a first-line treatment for non-cancer pain, the guidelines recommend non-opioid, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and non-drug therapies, such as massage therapy, acupuncture, tai chi, mindfulness-based stress reduction, spinal manipulation and exercise. Some common NSAIDs are aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen.

Going beyond pain medications

Non-drug therapies—as a complement or alternative to pain medications—can be effective in easing chronic pain without the side effects of drugs, such as sedation or nausea, that often make it harder for a person to participate in and enjoy regular activities.

Here are five alternative therapies shown to help ease chronic pain:

1)   Tai chi is a low-impact, slow-motion mind-body exercise that can ease pain for people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and tension headache, says Harvard Medical School.

2)  Practising yoga increases low cortisol levels in women with fibromyalgia, reducing chronic pain and fatigue, according to a York University study.

3)  Moderate exercise can ease arthritic pain and stiffness, whereas a lack of exercise can make your joints even more painful and stiff, says the Mayo Clinic.

4)  Mindfulness-based stress reduction helps people with chronic pain get relief and function better in daily life, says the Canadian Psychological Association.

5)  Acupuncture treatment reduced pain from arthritic knees and improved joint movement by almost 40%, when used with regular pain drugs, according to the University of Maryland.

Be sure to talk with a healthcare professional about the safety and potential effectiveness of any pain relief medications and non-drug therapies you may be considering.