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4 aging pain myths keeping you from dealing with pain effectively

And non-medication, non-invasive methods to treat bodily pains that professionals, experts and physiotherapists recommend.

When we think about pain relief, many people immediately think of medication. Many doctors’ go-to solution for body pains are non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids and prescription analgesics.

But this medication-centric approach creates many problems. NSAIDs like ibuprofen not only aren't that effective against some pains, they can actually make pain worse. NSAIDs have been shown to thin out knee cartilage and accelerate osteoarthritis; and also cause kidney function abnormalities, such as fluid retention.

Are some practices and beliefs outdated?

Yet, many clinicians still do these outdated practices because that’s what they learned in medical school years ago. And that’s not the only outdated practices that many people believe.

In the past decade, many new studies have emerged about aging pains which completely shatter commonly held beliefs. Yet they still persist.

However, if you are someone who suffers from “aging pains”, this article will shed light on common myths and misconceptions about aging and pain.

You will also discover effective non-invasive, non-medication methods to alleviate aging pains once and for all, without taking medication that does more harm than good.

Myth #1: You experience more pain with age

Everyone believes that pain is an expected part of getting older. In in-depth interviews conducted by Sale, Gignac and Hawker, they found that older people with osteoarthritis reported pain as a natural part of life and aging—even going as far as to say, “That’s how you know you’re alive… you ache.”

And the thing is, physicians are not immune to this bias too; with them often giving feedback to patients that their pain is just “part of getting older”. The question is, does the research agree?

The truth is, several studies show that there is no relationship between pain and age:

  • A National Center for Health Statistics report found that more adults between 45 and 64 reported experiencing pain lasting more than 24 hours, compared to those 65 and older. ¹
  • A meta-analysis comparing age-related differences in perception of pain found chronic pain occurred most at about age 65 and decreased after that, even beyond age 85. ²

In fact, chronic pain disorders occur less frequently for older populations.

  • Population-based studies have found that older adults had a lower prevalence of low back, neck, head and abdominal pain compared with their younger counterparts. ¹   ³
  • Epidemiological studies also suggest that musculoskeletal pain generally declines with age.
  • And finally, a study of patients in their final 2 years of their life found pain to be inversely correlated with age.

These studies show that pain should not be treated as normal and expected, and that it should be treated with the same importance as pain in a younger person.

Myth #2: Pain gets worse over time

Another myth that many people believe is that pain gets worse over time. And that is a fair assumption to make. After all, as you grow older you become more susceptible to conditions like arthritis. And a lot of the pains of older adults, such as lower back pain, wrist pains and shoulder pains are directly caused by degeneration, which worsen over time.

However, pain doesn’t necessarily intensify over time for everyone.

A systematic review of multiple studies have found that age is not a likely cause of musculoskeletal pain. And that pain does not always progress.

  • In a large cohort study, patients with peripheral joint osteoarthritis, even though their condition worsened over the course of 3 years, did not correlate with more pain. And after 8 years, there was no clear progression between worsening of the condition over time and increased pain.  
  • In a study involving older adults with back pain, the pain was often temporary and episodic. And the pain did not become worse with age.
  • In a population sample in Norway, the mean number of pain sites decreased over 14 years in adults over 60 years; while this number increased in people between 44 to 60.
  • A study of patients with knee osteoarthritis found factors that helped protect against decline in functions affected by pain; and age was not a factor. ¹⁰

This shows that aging does not necessarily mean worsening of pain, and that there are many other factors that can help in managing and treating pain, that we will discuss later in this article.

Myth #3: People from older generations can take pain better because they are more likely to “tough it out”.

In a survey, it showed that older people were more likely to agree with statements like “I maintain my pride and keep a stiff upper lip when in pain,” and “pain is something that should be ignored,” compared to their younger counterparts. And some physicians even reinforce this belief by telling older patients to “get used to it”.

However, does this type of stoic mindset actually help? Most likely not.

  • Population-based studies focusing on the effects of pain have shown that pain continues to affect people negatively (depression and insomnia) in older patients. And the association between pain and depression is stronger in older adults. ¹¹   ¹²
  • A national sample also found that 25% of people suffering from arthritis said they suffered insomnia, at twice the rate of non-arthritis people.  ¹³
  • In another study, those with arthritis were 3 times more likely to have sleep problems compared to those without—independent of age. ¹⁴

This suggests that the stoic outlook to pain does not actually diminish the effects of pain over time or help patients tolerate it better. And older people suffer from pain as much as younger people, if not more.

Myth #4: Prescription drugs are highly addictive

Lastly, there is a stereotype that prescription analgesics or opioid medications are highly addictive, and some general clinicians even believe so. However, this is a concern that clinicians trained in geriatric medicine shares, which has split the medical community into whether opioids should be prescribed to treat pain or not.

So, what is the actual risk of addiction?

For older patients, there is a very low risk of addiction. In fact, the older you are, the less the risk.

  • In a cohort study of older patients recently started on opioid medication, only 3% displayed behaviors associated with abuse. ¹⁵
  • Patterns show that most older adults discontinue medication after one or two prescriptions. ¹⁵   ¹⁶   ¹⁷
  • And decades of research has found that even though opioid medication may cause dependence, addiction is rare. ¹⁸   ¹⁹

This suggests that the fear of addiction to prescription medications are overblown and not a large enough issue to be a cause for concern. And they are generally safe to take for pain, if not taken frequently and in small doses.

However, the question remains, is medication even necessary in the first place? Or, are there better and safer alternatives to treating pain?

The truth about a medication-centered approach to pain

Now you know the truth about “aging pains”, so what? All you know is that your body still hurts and your doctor has prescribed you some medication to ease the pain temporarily. But is there anything else you can or should do?

Fortunately, there is. There are many non-medical, non-invasive solutions to pain. And in the community, many have begun shifting towards these better solutions to manage their pain with no side effects.

1. Lifestyle solutions

Rather than defaulting to medication for pain relief, many clinicians are taking a healthier lifestyle approach to dealing with pain. A study found that good mental health, self-efficacy, social support and greater physical activity have protective effects against decline in pain-related functions.

Being physically active is one of the key ways to achieve this. Exercise produces endorphins in the brain which boosts mood (mental health) and strengthens your body. It also can help reinforce the belief that you’re not too old to accomplish physical feats (self-efficacy) and builds a can-do attitude.

Finally, physical activity can be a social activity for many people (social support). Making lifestyle changes alone can help counter the negative effects of pain, without having to resort to medication.

2. Pain treatment tools

Trigger point release tools have recently become popular, specifically the kind for self-use. Most shoulder pain issues are not serious and can be self-treated at home, without needing to visit a physiotherapist or masseuse. Visiting a physio or going for a massage can be time consuming, expensive and inconvenient these days (due to the pandemic).

There are three categories of trigger point release tools.

Manual trigger point release tools

These come in many different shapes and sizes, such as foam rollers, lacrosse balls and massage sticks. They require manual exertion of force or using your body weight to “hit the spot” and relieve pain.

The different shapes and sizes are also meant for different body parts and intensities. And you may be required to build your own set of tools to use for different purposes. Trying to use a foam roller for different pains is not the best option.

Manual tools also require a bit of space and know-how in order to use them effectively. Individually, they are the cheapest options but the cost can add up if you are buying multiple tools.

Fully-automatic trigger point release tools

These are gaining popularity in recent years as massage tools become more widely used. They also come in many different variations, such as massage chairs, vibrating neck massagers and massage vests.

They are popular because of their “plug and play” nature. For example, massage chairs are simple to use as you just need to sit down, choose a setting and let it do its work. Owning one can be very costly and the downside is that you cannot carry it around with you.

Another downside of fully-automatic massage tools is that there are fixed settings and you can’t choose where to focus on. For example, if there is a specific spot in your lower back that requires additional focus, there’s no setting to target that area. The massage chair or vest is calibrated specifically to the body of the person they used when they created and tested the product and may not work for you.

Still they are a good solution if you can afford the hefty price and want a general solution.

Hybrid trigger point release tools - Best Option

In the last couple of years, hybrid tools have gained popularity. Hybrid tools offer the best of both worlds of manual and automated tools. Examples of hybrid tools are massage guns.

Massage guns allow you to target specific pain areas and let the device do its work without requiring you to use extra force. A good massage gun should be strong enough or offer multiple speed settings to cater for different intensity needs.

Hybrid tools also don't require a lot of space to roll around on the ground and use, and can be brought around and used anywhere. They are the favorite choice of many athletes and professional physiotherapists and chiropractors who want the benefit of convenience and precision to deal with different bodies.

Most massage guns also come with multiple replaceable massage heads for different body parts, which means you don’t have to worry about building your “set” of different tools. You get all-in-one with a good massage gun.

How to use a massage gun?

Using a massage gun is simple and gets you the desired pain relief in as short as 2-3 minutes of use per muscle group.

  • Step 1: Select the right massage head. In the case of lower back pain, using the ball head is the most effective and the lower back muscle is bigger.
  • Step 2: Turn it on and start with speed 1. Float the massage around the pain area to get your muscle used to the strength of the massage.
  • Step 3: Gradually increase the speed and lightly press the massage gun into the muscle, if necessary to get a stronger deeper massage.
  • Step 4: Keep it moving around the general area. Don’t hold it in one spot for too long. Use it for 2 minutes then move on to the next pain area. Come back later if necessary.

Selecting a good massage gun

But not all massage guns are the same. If you look around you’ll see many different types of massage guns in various shapes and sizes, with all sorts of features and accessories and also wildly varying prices.

So which one should you go for? Building a good massage gun is about balance. Too strong and it’ll get noisy and vibrate harder, making it uncomfortable and stressful to use. Too cheaply built and the motor might burn out quickly or the battery drains quickly.

We came up with a list of key criteria to look out for when choosing the right massage gun.

1. Strength

The strength of the massage gun is no doubt one of the most important things to look out for. What good is a massage gun that doesn’t give you a good strong massage when you’re in pain.

Strength, however, is difficult to measure. It’s a mixture of the motor’s torque (or stall force), max speed, amplitude and power output. Generally, a bigger motor means a stronger motor.

2. Build Quality

Build quality refers to the design, engineering and materials used when building the massage gun. Is it constructed using plastic and fit together loosely? Or is it made of quality materials like aluminium and fit together firmly to prevent rattling noises. Good build quality also means durability. Well-built massage guns are more likely to last longer.

3. Quietness

It might be hard to tell how well a massage gun is engineered just by looking at it. But by seeing how quiet it is, you can tell if it is well-built. Quietness shows a couple of things: that the sound insulation is top-notch, that the components fit together like a glove; and that the motor is of a high quality.

4. Control

Next, a good massage gun gives you enough control over the settings and configurations for your specific needs. These come in the form of speed settings and interchangeable massage heads. On average 5-6 speed settings is good as it means that the difference from one speed to the next is just right.

5. After-sales customer care

Moving away from the device itself, as with purchasing anything online, customer care is very important. Imagine your device breaks down two months in and you have no recourse to replace or repair your device. A good massage gun brand would have a good return policy, warranty and responsive customer service.

6. Price

Last on the list is how fairly priced the massage gun is. Cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean better. Neither is expensive. It’s important to consider all the above criteria first, and determine how much you’re willing to pay for a good massage gun that will last you a long time.

One brand that is gaining popularity is the Hydragun. It has the premium specifications of top massage guns without the exorbitant price tag. The Hydragun is built with premium materials and maintains its strength despite being whisper quiet.

To make it easier for you to compare the top massage gun brands, here is a table of the specifications of some of the popular massage guns.

If you are interested in getting a Hydragun today, you can claim a special WFH offer if you purchase a Hydragun today.

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You don’t have to suffer from aging pain anymore

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