Persistent Pain and Decline of Physical Function

Persistent Pain and Decline of Physical Function

It may come as no surprise that pain can affect physical function. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) studied the effect of persistent pain among older adults. McKnights reports that their research findings indicate that this ongoing pain affects about 58 percent of individuals in skilled nursing facilities and negatively impacts their physical function and well-being.

Over 5,500 individuals participated in this study. The relationship between ongoing pain and changes in cognitive and physical function was assessed. Participants were aged 65 years and older.

How does one define persistent pain? In this study, researchers defined it as someone who was bothered by pain in the last month. Participants were interviewed twice, a year apart. Individuals who had pain in only one of the interviews were categorized as having intermittent pain. Of those that participated, 39 percent reported persistent pain and 28 percent reported intermittent pain.

Participants who had persistent pain experienced a decline in physical function and overall well-being. More than one-third of these individuals reported having pain in five or more body parts. It was noted that Black participants were more likely to report the pain they experienced when compared to White participants.

physical function

Alexander Smith MD, MPH of UCSF stated that this pain did not have any correlation to dementia or cognitive decline.

Individuals who experience persistent pain are at a higher risk for gastrointestinal bleedings so medications are prescribed with caution. Smith and colleagues suggested that clinicians should consider other interventions to help these individuals manage their pain. They said, “Given that an estimated 12 million older adults experience persistent pain and close to two-thirds experience subsequent functional decline, it is critical that access to effective treatment be made available to all. The high prevalence of pain and its untoward consequences suggest a need for a renewed policy focus on persistent pain that incorporates reimbursement for nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic approaches.”

Cornerstone Rehab clinicians specialize in working with older adults living in skilled nursing facilities. With rehabilitation therapy services including physical, occupational and speech therapy, they help individuals regain or maintain as much physical function as possible. This includes individuals who experience persistent pain.