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Pain Management in Older Adults


Pain is not a normal part of aging, and may be a sign that something is wrong. Sometimes there is no clear or exact cause of pain. Pain management is an important part of your care. It can increase your appetite, sleep, and energy. It can also improve your mood and your relationships. You and your family will receive information about how to manage your pain at home. The instructions will include what to do if you have side effects as your pain is managed. It will also include how to handle prescription pain medicine safely if it is prescribed. It is important to follow all instructions so your pain is managed effectively. This will help prevent a return to the hospital.


Call your doctor or pain specialist if:

  • Your pain gets worse or you have new pain.
  • You have new symptoms, such as numbness or tingling.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Prescription pain medicine called narcotics or opioids may be given for certain types of chronic pain. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely.
  • Steroids decrease inflammation that causes pain.
  • Anesthetic medicines may be injected in or around a nerve to block pain signals from the nerves.
  • Anxiety medicine decreases anxiety. High levels of anxiety make pain harder to manage.
  • Antidepressants may be used to help decrease or prevent the symptoms of depression or anxiety. They are also used to treat nerve pain.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your doctor or pain specialist as directed:

Talk to your provider about your pain management at home. Tell him or her if you are able to do more of your daily activities or if any activity still causes pain. Your provider may want to make changes to your pain medicine or refer you to a specialist. For example, an occupational therapist can help you find new ways to do your daily activities so you have less pain. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Prescription pain medicine safety:

  • Do not suddenly stop taking prescription pain medicine. If you have been taking prescription pain medicine for longer than 2 weeks, a sudden stop may cause dangerous side effects. Ask your healthcare provider for more information before you stop taking your medicine.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Take only the amount prescribed or recommended by your healthcare provider. Too much medicine may cause breathing problems or other health issues. If you use a pain patch, be sure to remove the old patch before you place a new one.
  • Do not drink alcohol while you use prescription medicines. Alcohol with prescription medicines can make you sleepy and slow your breathing rate. You may stop breathing completely.
  • Do not drive after you take prescription pain medicine. Prescription pain medicine can make you drowsy and make it hard to concentrate. You may injure yourself or others if you drive while taking your medicine.
  • Time your medicine correctly. Take your pain medicine 30 minutes before exercise or physical therapy. This helps decrease pain to help meet your treatment goals. You may need to take medicine before you go to bed. This may help you sleep and not be woken by pain.
  • Watch for side effects. Some foods, alcohol, and other medicines may cause side effects when you take pain medicine. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent these problems.
  • Prevent constipation. This is a common side effect of prescription pain medicine. Eat foods high in fiber, such as raw fruit, vegetables, beans, and whole-grain bread and cereal. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Exercise and activity may also help decrease the risk for constipation.
  • Follow instructions for what to do with medicine you do not use. Your healthcare provider will give you instructions for how to dispose of pain medicine safely. This helps make sure no one else takes the medicine.

What you can do to manage pain without medicine:

  • Keep a pain diary to help you track pain cycles. Include things that make your pain worse or better. Bring your pain diary when you follow up with your healthcare provider or pain specialist.
  • Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed.
  • Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on the area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed.
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise can help improve movement and strength, and decrease pain. Your healthcare provider will help you find exercise programs that are right for your type of pain.
  • Go to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as directed. CBT can help you gain control over your pain and how you react to it. Your healthcare provider may have you get treatment from a therapist.
  • Go to physical therapy (PT) or occupational therapy (OT) as directed. PT can teach you exercises that can help with your pain. OT can teach new ways to do your daily activities so you have less pain.
  • Self-management programs can help you control pain. These programs give you education about pain and the effect it can have on your life. The programs also teach coping techniques, such as relaxation and communication.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your daily activities. Some activities can cause pain to become worse or make pain management less effective. Your provider can help you find ways to reduce pain. For example, you may need to change when you take your pain medicine so it is more effective during activities.

For more information:

  • American Chronic Pain Association
    PO Box 850
    Rocklin , CA 95677
    Phone: 1- 800 - 533-3231
    Web Address:

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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