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When pain makes you feel old before your time

September 18, 2009 |  3:46 pm

Having chronic pain can affect every aspect of a person's life, making daily activities a struggle. It may even make people feel older before their time.


A recent study validates those feelings. It found that people often troubled by pain may have the same level of functional limitations as those who suffer no chronic pain but are two to three decades older.

Researchers looked at data from 18,531 people ages 50 and older who took part in the 2004 Health and Retirement Study. Subjects were asked whether they were often troubled by pain and if the pain was mild, moderate or severe. Those in the moderate or severe category were categorized as having significant pain. The participants were also quizzed about their physical limitations in terms of mobility, stair climbing, upper-body tasks and daily living activities such as bathing, dressing and eating.

Almost one-fourth of all study subjects said they were often bothered by significant pain. They were also, on average, as limited functionally as people who were 20 to 30 years older who didn’t suffer from substantial pain. About a third of people ages 50 to 59 who were in pain, for example, said they could climb several flights of stairs without difficulty, compared with 39% of people 80 to 89 who weren't in pain. Study participants ages 50 to 59 who had pain also had higher rates of dependence and difficulty with daily tasks than people 80 to 89 who didn't have pain.

"When we think about taking care of patients in pain, the question is not just how do you manage their pain, but how do you help them to function better?" lead author Dr. Kenneth E. Covinksy, a staff physician at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said in a news release.

The study appears in the September issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Alex Cruz / EPA