Geriatric Pain Management: Common Causes

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

What some consider the "golden years" may not be so golden if riddled with pain; here are the most common causes of pain in the elderly population.

  • Arthritis: Painful joints are by far the most common reason to have pain as you get older. Arthritis can occur in any joint from the top of the spine all the way to the bottom toe. The severity and amount of joints involved usually depend on injuries, activities or just plain old bum luck during a lifetime. Thanks to modern medicine, many joints can be replaced, but not all joints.

  • Spinal Stenosis: Spinal pain, particularly due to spinal stenosis, is another extremely common cause of pain in the elderly. The pain can be localized to the spine or travel down a limb. Sometimes surgery can help ease the pain, sometimes medications can too.

  • Headaches: Although migraine headaches typically improve as one gets older, cervicogenic headaches gradually worsen. The term "cervicogenic" means that the headache is caused by problems in the neck. Arthritic joints at the top of the neck are often the root of headaches in the elderly population. A good physical therapist can often help alleviate this problem.

  • Neuropathy: Painful peripheral neuropathy is another common condition seen frequently in older people. The nerves can be damaged over the years by uncontrolled diabetes, excessive alcohol use or another progressive disease process. As the damage progresses, the pain can get worse. Fortunately, there are many good medications that can help ease the nerve pain and some worthwhile nutritional supplements too.

  • Shoulder Tendonitis: One of the hardest working joints in the body is the shoulders. Think about all the reaching, pulling, pushing the shoulders do over a lifetime. Over the years, the tendons in the shoulder become inflamed and stiff. By the time the "golden years" come around, some can barely touch the top of the head to brush the hair or reach the mouth to brush the teeth. Again, good physical therapy can keep those worn out shoulders going for a few more years.

Although these are the top 5 causes of pain in the geriatric population, there are many more potential causes of pain at the end of life. When pain is ruining the "golden years," an accurate diagnosis can lead to solutions that can bring some of the glimmer back into one's life.

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.