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Pain Management Health Center

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Chronic Pain More Devastating to the Young

Older People Cope Better With Long-Term Pain
WebMD Health News

Jan. 28, 2005 -- Chronic pain hurts worse when you're young, a U.S. study shows.

"Older people may feel that pain is just something that you deal with, perhaps because they were raised in a time when pain was not addressed in the way we deal with it today, or because they feel that pain is just a normal part of getting older," Carmen R. Green, MD says in a news release.

Green, a pain specialist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues analyzed medical records from nearly 6,000 U.S. adults being treated for long-lasting pain.

Chronic pain patients aged 50 and older, they found, did a better job of coping with their pain than did patients under age 50.

Race had little to do with it. Younger people, whether white or black, reported more depression, more intense pain, and less successful coping than older patients did. Young white patients also had more posttraumatic stress disorderposttraumatic stress disorder symptoms than older white patients did.

"Younger people, who may be dealing with job and family stress in addition to their pain, may experience more negative effects," Green says. "They may also have different expectations about pain treatment and about experiencing chronic pain at a relatively young age."

Green and colleagues suggest that as people get older, they develop more effective coping skills that let them adjust to pain. Older people may simply have acclimated to higher pain thresholds, they suggest. They may also have lower expectations regarding their physical abilities.

The findings appear in a special issue of Pain Medicine.

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