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Is Chronic Pain on the Rise?

Chronic pain relief becomes critical as baby boomers age.

Over-the-Counter Drugs: Do-It-Yourself Pain Management?

Many people prefer finding pain relief with over-the-counter drugs rather than seeing a doctor. "We're a do-it-yourself culture," says Penney Cowan, executive director of the American Chronic Pain Association. "And it's obviously a lot easier and cheaper to buy a bottle of painkillers than it is to see a doctor."

That's usually OK, so long as you're only using over-the-counter drugs occasionally and as directed on the label.

But pain is sneaky. It can worsen so gradually you don't notice. It starts with an occasional ache you treat with a couple of painkillers. But over a few years it can become relentless. And your "occasional" use of a nonprescription painkiller has turned into a daily ritual of downing a handful of pills. That's a cause for concern.

"People severely underestimate the dangers of over-the-counter painkillers," says Cowan.

Some of the most problematic are NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, Advil, Aleve, and Motrin. Taken regularly, they can result in serious gastrointestinal bleeding and may also raise the risk of cardiovascular problems. What's worse, the older you are, the more likely you are to have complications from these drugs, says Cohen.

A Holistic Approach to Chronic Pain Relief

But drugs and other medical treatments aren't the only solution. Some baby boomers are turning to unorthodox new techniques -- or very old ones - for chronic pain relief.

Complementary medicine is designed to work alongside conventional medical treatment and includes options like:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Biofeedback
  • Focused relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Exercise, and other techniques

Bonakdar says baby boomers are more open to these approaches to pain relief than previous generations. And some approaches, like acupuncture, biofeedback, and massage have been shown to help ease pain in scientific studies.

And while other approaches may not have the same evidence backing them up, your doctor might still encourage you to try them if they have no risks.

However, supplements -- like vitamins, herbs, and botanicals -- can have serious side effects and interact with other drugs. Make sure your doctor knows about all the ones you use.

Taking Control of Your Health -- and Chronic Pain Management

Getting older is inevitable. And as your body ages, the likelihood of illness increases. But that doesn't mean you have to accept chronic pain passively.

Baby boomers have a reputation for being demanding about their health care. Yet plenty of people in their late 50s and early 60s are in pain but aren't getting relief. If you're one of them, speak up. You deserve to have your pain managed, says Cowan.

"There's a saying that while pain is inevitable, suffering is not," says Cowan. "We do not have to suffer." No matter your age, you never need to settle for living with chronic pain.

Reviewed on August 15, 2007

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