I think it is fairly common to think of pain and disability to be synonymous with age.  Phrases like "I'm no spring chicken" or "Well, you are getting older - things hurt more." create an implicit statement on the expectation of these presumed inevitabilities.  But are they inevitable?  Researchers who published this paper back in 2012 say, "[Our] findings refute the notion that pain is an inevitable, unremitting, or progressive consequence of aging."  This was the conclusion to a six year long study of 5,093 men & woman 65 years and older being asked about the presence of pain at regular intervals.  Contrary to common belief, the researchers found pain to be intermittent rather than pervasive in nature.

Here is a key excerpt from the discussion of results:

These results may have several clinical implications. First, prognosis is important for patients, and instead of promoting the idea that they should “get used to it because it’s just going to get worse,” as one woman described her doctor’s advice, clinicians might offer a more evidence-based perspective on the future course of pain and emphasize its dynamic nature. Second, identifying and addressing modifiable risk factors might increase the likelihood of remission. Treating depression may improve pain symptoms. Obesity can be addressed and may have a direct mechanical relationship with pain. Self-rated health may be difficult to influence, but its association with pain suggests the broad potential benefits of health promotion. Third, clinicians might collaborate with patients to project the anticipated duration of analgesic therapy and to agree on how to evaluate response. Especially given the risks associated with chronic opioid therapy, it seems important for clinicians not to assume that musculoskeletal pain in older adults, being the result of progressive wear and tear, is intractable and demands perpetual treatment.

In another paper (also published in 2012), researchers specifically challenge the notion of four common cultural stereotypes:

  • Pain is a natural part of getting older
  • Pain worsens over time
  • Stoicism leads to pain tolerance
  • Prescription analgesics are highly addictive

I debated with myself on whether to write a summary of the paper and I have to say that it is quite an easy read, chock full of pertinent information.  I really think reading the paper in it's entirety will give the most value, so click the link above to see the evidence that says that we can have minimal intermittent pain into an advanced age (normal for any age).  As a bonus, it also contains some tips on how to increase you chances of such.

In closing, I leave your with this wonderful representation of aged woman who continues her love of gymnastics against all assumptions of impairment with a woman her age (86!!!).  Perhaps, she is a superwoman or an enigma?  At Return To Movement, we don't think so.  We have observed it out in the world and we have witnessed positive change in the clinic.  Quality movement, and with it - quality of life, is possible.