Pain Management as We Age: An Interview With Denis Patterson, D.O.

Pain management can be a problem for aging bodies. With the current focus on removing opioids as a go-to solution, doctors are working hard to provide alternatives for their patients.

Denis Patterson, D.O., is a Board Certified Pain Medicine, Physical Medicine, and Rehabilitation physician. He is also the founder and owner of Nevada Advanced Pain Specialists in Reno, Nevada.

I’ve had questions for some time about what doctors suggest for pain management of aging bodies, regardless of whether the pain stems from old injuries or a current issue such as severe arthritis. So I asked Dr. Patterson if he would be willing to provide us with information from the perspective of a specialist. He did so in this email interview.

HealthCentral: Dr. Patterson, what are your top tips for keeping aging bodies moving well and as pain-free as possible?

Dr. Patterson: Life expectancy continues to increase in the United States. It is predicted that in 2050, Americans ages 65 or older will number nearly 89 million people. This is double the number of older adults in the United States in 2010.

One of the greatest fears of aging is “having pain.” The chances of developing a chronic pain issue increases with each decade of life. Pain causes negative life consequences, such as a decrease in mobility and independence, which ultimately lead to a poor quality of life.

For my aging patients, I recommend the following to help them keep moving and live as pain-free as possible:

  1. Eat a healthy diet that is high in antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body from harmful molecules called free radicals. Free radicals cause inflammation that can cause pain. Examples of foods that are high in antioxidants are blueberries, nuts, dark green veggies, tea, beans, and fish.

  2. Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight leads to added stress on our bodies, particularly our joints.

  3. Get plenty of sleep. Typically, seven to nine hours a night is needed for healthy adults to function at their best. Research has shown that proper sleep leads to better health, less pain, better moods, better weight control, better memory, and a stronger immune system.

  4. Keep moving. I recommend that they participate in a daily low-impact, light-aerobic exercise program.

HC: What is the best type of exercise for people who may have joint problems, so that they can avoid exacerbating existing problem areas?

Dr. P: The best exercise for people with joint problems is to develop a low-impact, light-aerobic exercise program.

Low-impact exercises mean that one foot stays in contact with the ground at all times. Types of low-impact exercises include walking, cycling, elliptical machines, swimming, and water aerobics.

Light aerobic exercises are when you achieve 60 percent of your maximum heart rate or a pace that allows you to talk and sing easily while working out.

For severely arthritic joints, isometric exercises should be done. This is a type of strength training in which the muscle length or the joint angle do not change during contraction.

HC: It's now common knowledge that opioids are to be avoided for pain relief whenever possible. Yet, with our aging population, more people are battling pain from arthritis, back injuries, lower back pain, and other general complaints. Some of these conditions are far beyond the "aches and pains" category. What do you suggest for your patients who have these problems?

Dr. P: Conservative treatment measures that are usually successful with treating painful conditions are modalities (such as ice or heat), medications (acetaminophen or anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen), physical therapy, and sometimes injections.

Over the counter medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can help relieve pain. One product is not superior to the other, and individual responses will vary. Always take these medicines exactly as prescribed or according to the label. Do not take a nonprescription anti-inflammatory for longer than 10 days without talking to your doctor. If taken too often, or for extended periods of time, these medications can lead to stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, and high blood pressure.

HC: What is the most cost-effective way to stay healthy while people age?

Dr. P: Chronic health problems are expensive. Prevention is the most cost-effective way to stay healthy while aging. Eating healthy and daily exercise is the secret. Paying attention to the food you eat and the amount of activity you do on a daily basis will prevent chronic health conditions from developing.

HC: Thank you, Dr. Patterson, for your expert information. We know that there are no magic pills that will keep us healthy. You reaffirm, from the perspective of a pain specialist, what we know we should do to keep our bodies as healthy and pain-free as possible as we age. We appreciate your time.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver having spent over two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a longtime newspaper columnist and the author of zMinding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories as well as a contributor to several additional books on caregiving and dementia. Her websites can be accessed at Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook Minding Our Elders.

Carol Bradley Bursack
Meet Our Writer
Carol Bradley Bursack

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. This experience provided her with her foundation upon which she built her reputation as a columnist, author, blogger, and consultant. Carol is as passionate about supporting caregivers work through the diverse challenges in their often confusing role as she is about preserving the dignity of the person needing care. Find out much more about Carol at