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Mar 2016

Healthy Living: Managing Pain - March 2016


Terry Giannetti
Holy Redeemer Home Care

As we welcome the New Year, there are many health topics worth talking about. A common problem that so many people deal with is pain in one form or another. No one likes to think or talk about it, but pain can be addressed and managed and no one should have to accept living wth unmanageable pain. This article will address some myths and facts related to pain.

Myth: “Pain is a normal part of aging.”

Reality: Although older adults are more likely to experience pain, it is not a “symptom” of aging, and should not be considered inevitable. Instead of accepting pain, an underlying cause should always be researched and addressed. Pain is always a symptom of a problem that can range from simple to complex. When planning how to manage pain, treatment will vary based upon factors such as cause, severity, chronicity, and quality of life considerations.

Myth: “My loved one doesn’t look like he (she) is in pain- that must mean that the pain is not that bad.”

Reality: Pain research expert Margo McCafferty defined pain as “whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever he says it does.” We cannot tell if a person is having pain by looking at them. Only the person having pain knows how it feels so it is important that we ask the person if they are having pain and how it feels- and we need to listen to their answer.

Myth: “It is best to wait until the pain is severe before taking pain medications.”

Reality: It is best to stay ahead of the pain by taking medications around the clock when treating persistent pain. The longer pain goes untreated, the harder it is to ease. If the prescription says to take the medicine at certain times or at certain time intervals (for example, every six hours), make sure this is done.

Myth: “People who take strong opiate (“narcotic”) pain medication become drug addicts.”

Reality: Opiates (narcotics) are highly effective for many types of pain and can be given safely. Addiction is characterized by compulsive craving and use of a drug, which results in physical, psychological, and social harm to the user. Addiction is NOT a problem for people who take opiate medications for persistent uncontrolled pain.


The following are some general tips for safely treating pain. Always consult with your health care provider in regards to possible causes and potential treatment of pain:

  • For localized muscular pain (strains, pulls), generally apply ice intermittently (apply no longer than 20 minutes at a time). Elevate the affected area.
  • Non- steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medications that can reduce inflammation and pain. Oral forms include aspirin and ibuprofen and should not be used in situations of bleeding, history of ulcers and history of heart failure. NSAIDs can cause GI upset.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be effective to relieve minor pain such ash eadaches or aches and pains associated with colds and flu.
  • Acetaminophen combined with an opioid analgesic is commonly known as Darvocet or Percocet. It can be used for more severe pain such as post surgical pain or pain caused by cancers.
  • Care must be taken not to exceed the recommended total daily dose of 4000 mg of acetaminophen. Doses over that amount can cause liver damage. Be careful not to take both Darvocet or Percocet and Tylenol as this can cause over dosage. Some cold medicines and Anacin-3 contain acetaminophophen and must be considered when tracking a safe total daily dose of acetaminophen.

Persistent uncontrolled pain causes suffering and significantly impacts quality of life and physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well being. Physically, uncontrolled pain may lead to other symptoms including insomnia, fatigue, poor appetite and nausea. Socially, it is often difficult for pain sufferers to interact with others, leading to social isolation. Depression, loss of control, anger, and anxiety are not uncommon. Living with advanced or life limiting illness does not mean that one has to live with uncontrolled pain.

Pain can be controlled by relatively simple means utilizing oral medications or medications applied under the tongue or by way of a skin patch. It is also important to consider  non-medication methods of treating pain, and they will be discussed in a future article.

Understanding what pain is, how it can be effectively managed, and alleviating misconceptions is the first step towards effective pain management.

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