Beyond Pain: Finding Root Causes And Solutions
Pain is a concept we’re all too familiar with. Whether it’s a toe stub against furniture, throbbing in the head, or a stinging sunburn—different pain sensations can be fleeting or acute, and may sometimes last longer, resulting in a chronic condition.
For many, pain becomes a constant companion with every passing year. Studies show that pain is twice as common in people above 60 than younger people. If you fall within this age group, it’s almost routine to hear complaints about joint pain, post-surgical discomfort, fractures, back pain, and other aches. Knowing this, it’s understandable to question if pain is a natural part of the aging process.
The quick answer is, no—age doesn’t have to be synonymous with routine pain. We’ll be exploring pain to understand the workings of this sensation, plus the links between age and pain sensitivity. By understanding our relationship to pain, we can then properly manage its impact on daily life.
The Science Behind Pain: Understanding Nociception
Pain is a core part of your body’s defense system. After experiencing a distressing sensation, your instinct to move away from the pain source, or shift positions is a reaction to stimulus that helps to prevent further tissue damage.
If you are experiencing, for example, recurring hip pain—this change in sensations is typically picked up by pain receptors in that area which release chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters then send messages via nerves in the spinal cord straight to the brain, so the body becomes aware that something causing pain, potentially an injury, has occurred.
These pain receptors are called nociceptors—sensory neurons that respond to damaging or what could be harmful stimulation by transmitting messages to the CNS, the central nervous system.
As sensory neurons, nociceptors specialize along three different classes to recognize environmental changes. These neurons may be thermal to detect changes in temperature, or mechanical nociceptors which respond to excessive pressure or mechanical deformation like bruises, cuts, or fractures. Lastly, nociceptors are also polymodal, where they can detect different forms of stimulation like temperature changes, chemical irritants, or mechanical pressure.
Nociceptors are present in different parts of the body: the skin, muscles, joints, and internal organs, while operating along slow or fast pain pathways. A-fibers transmit information slowly, while C-fiber groups conduct information more quickly, and are to thank for the immediate pain you experience after a pinprick.
In addition to nociceptive sensations, we can experience neuropathic pain caused by nerve damage, or inflammatory strain when the immune system responds to injury or infection.
Age and Pain: How Aging Influences Pain Sensitivity
Your body is sure to weather many aches and pains as you age. But to understand why, experts are divided on the causes of body pain in old age, and how these changes impact wellbeing.
On the one hand, research suggests regular wear and tear associated with aging is partly to blame. As your muscles and bones mature with age, their ability to perform optimally takes a hit, resulting in routine body pains. On the other hand, your body may experience heightened sensitivity to pain with age, because of time-related changes to the structure and function of the nociceptive system.
These changes can mean stiffer backs brought on by more rigid spines, higher chances of neck pain from sustained poor posture, or even reduced dexterity in the fingers caused by joint, muscle, and tendon decline.
And while everyone will eventually experience a gradual slowing down in body functions, women are at a higher risk of experiencing age-related pain sensitivity. A recent study showed that because older women from 63 and above experienced more chronic disease, body functioning and psychological decline, plus reduced physical activities, these groups were most likely to have higher odds of pain than their male counterparts.
Yoga and Pilates: Exercise as Natural Pain Relief
It’s one thing to understand the causes of pain with age, but if you’re nearing your 60s, you’re probably more concerned with learning how to avoid knee pain in old age, or if you’re past that mark, how to reduce muscle and joint pain in old age.
Many options exist to manage pain as you get older, but few provide the benefits of mind-body exercises like yoga and pilates.
As a physical, mental, and spiritual practice, yoga combines the effects of body poses, concentration, and deep breathing to bring higher awareness, while also providing fitness and relaxation benefits. Similarly, pilates pairs precise moves and breathing techniques to achieve a full body workout. Both are designed to improve mobility and strength, and include modifications for poses you may be unable to fully reach.
Regardless of your age and ability, you can engage in either or both practices to relieve pain, plus overcome the mental challenges these practices may come with. While research is ongoing on the effects of yoga and pilates for pain relief, a small study of 38 older women put yoga to the test to ease chronic pain. By engaging in supervised, flow-restorative yoga twice weekly for one hour, these participants experienced reduced pain, a boost in energy, and additional positive social interactions.
Pilates is just as effective, as studies to determine its effects on reducing pain and disability in middle-aged and older adults have revealed. In a review of seven studies, pilates was shown to be not only safe for adults over 50, but significantly improved pains linked to common age-related conditions.
But while useful, your first priority before engaging in these exercises is to ensure your safety. This means starting off stretches, poses, and other maneuvers slowly, and where possible, under expert guidance.
Harnessing the Power of Natural Supplements for Pain Relief
Whether your pain is a result of lifestyle or age-related influences, nature is always a trusted source to find relief. Traditional herbs and botanicals have helped to soothe pain points for centuries, with many options still available to manage daily discomforts.
These natural treatments include:
Turmeric is a spice from the ginger family containing curcumin, an active ingredient that soothes pain by supporting healthier inflammatory responses.
But while medicinal, your body is unable to fully absorb the benefits of curcuminoid compounds. And while administering higher amounts of this treatment can increase its bioavailability, this approach can lead to unwanted side effects.
To get the full effects, Longvida® ensures that curcuminoids are given more time to work their magic and circulate around the body. It also enhances antioxidant benefits. This specialized form of turmeric is 285 times more bioavailable than standard forms of curcumin found in other supplements. In a study comparing the pain improvement benefits of ibuprofen and optimized curcumin, the latter was found to improve joint pain and stiffness in participants.
Boswellia and its derivatives are prized for supporting healthier inflammatory responses, which can help to soothe pain.
Like curcumin, boswellia doesn’t have the best track record for absorption in the body. Instead, options like WokVel® have been modified to increase the potency of this compound making it more bioavailable, and therefore more effective. Research supports these effects, with a study on 48 participants confirming the safety of boswellia extract for managing pain and stiffness in the knee.
A few words on pain management
Pain is a common and easily dismissed feature of the aging process. But while familiar, you can take control over pain’s influence in your life using the right lifestyle modifications and supplementary assistance.
Introducing physical activities like yoga and pilates into your daily routine can ease, plus manage the usual wearing down brought on by age. Likewise, supplements can provide monumental benefits for your pain, health, and overall physical well-being.
But, to get the most out of any option you use for pain management, it’s always advisable to first consult with a medical professional.
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