If joint pain gets worse when it's cold or raining, it's not your imagination. Although studies have shown mixed results, changes in barometric pressure can cause some people -- especially people with arthritis -- to have increased pain in their joints. Experts think this is because the change in barometric pressure affects joint pressure.
Women point to childbirth as proof of their greater pain capacity, and some science backs this up. Women and men tolerate pain differently. Women use more coping mechanisms to deal with pain. They seek treatment more quickly and tend to recover from pain faster than men. But experts say pain is such an individual experience that it's hard to compare one person's pain to another's.
Although short rest may be prescribed for back pain, it's best to remain active. Experts say that complete bed rest is one of the worst things you can do. If you're not active, the body quickly becomes deconditioned -- causing even more pain when you eventually move. Limit exercise during acute episodes of pain but continue daily activities and exercise per doctor's orders as much as you can.
If you are overweight, know that having less weight on your body means less pressure -- and less pain -- on your joints and back. "Dropping a few extra pounds can really help improve joint pain in the knees and hips," says Patience White, MD, vice president of public health at the Arthritis Foundation. "Even 10 pounds can make a huge difference." Losing weight also can help back pain caused by muscle fatigue.
Although pain may make it harder to exercise, staying active is one of the best things you can do to feel better. Exercise can help you lose weight, sleep better, and boost your mood -- all of which can also help reduce pain. Exercise helps strengthen muscles, ease stiff joints, and restore coordination and balance. Low-impact exercises, like walking, swimming, and stretching, are good ways to start.
"Just because you can't find the exact source of someone's pain doesn't mean they don't feel it," says John F. Dombrowski, MD, a Washington, D.C. pain specialist. No test can measure the intensity of pain, no imaging device can show pain, and no instrument can locate pain precisely. This doesn't mean pain can't be treated. "We don't need to know the exact cause of the pain to try to make it feel better."
Many people believe that pain is just something you have to live with, yet pain should never be ignored. Even if your pain gets better with over-the-counter pain medications, see your doctor if the pain lasts more than a week or two, becomes worse over time, or if it interferes with daily activities.
Dwelling on pain can make it feel worse. "Those who focus on their pain tend to do poorly compared with those who have a proactive attitude and try to find ways to cope with their pain," says Roger Chou, MD, associate professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. Pain can lead to depression and anxiety, which can then make pain worse. Consider counseling to help cope with pain.
Although it's OK to push yourself until you feel the burn of exercise, it's important to know when to stop. Pain is the body's way of telling you that something is wrong. You should never feel pain when exercising. If you do, stop and take a break. To stay safe, learn what your limits are, and stay within them.
Like gray hair and wrinkles, a few aches and pains are a part of nearly everyone's life. But chronic pain -- which can increase suffering and decrease quality of life -- doesn't have to be. Most people should be able to lead relatively pain-free lives as they age. If you are bothered by chronic pain, a pain specialist can help you find relief -- no matter how old you are.
When taken as directed, prescription pain medications rarely cause addiction. However, as with many drugs, the body can become physically dependent on pain medication. Although this doesn't mean you're addicted, you may have withdrawal symptoms if you stop the drug abruptly. It's an expected response when a prescription pain drug is used for more than a few days. Your doctor can help you stop safely.