Feeling and Looking Older Because of Chronic Pain


Chronic pain may not only make people feel older but actually accelerate the aging process by 30 years, according to new findings that have much relevance to patients dealing with long-term back pain and neck pain.

The study in the September issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society noted that chronic pain patients (aged 50-59) looked similar to healthy patients who were two to three decades older. Furthermore, the study found that the chronic pain sufferers also functioned as if they were much older, specifically in terms of four types of physical activities:

  • Walking/jogging
  • Climbing stairs
  • Using the upper extremities
  • Performing everyday activities like bathing, dressing and eating.

Chronic Pain Study: Methodology and Other Findings

Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco analyzed data from slightly more than 18,500 participants (aged 50 and older) who took part in the 2004 Health and Retirement Study, which examined functioning across the aforementioned physical activities.

Notable findings included the following:

  • 24 percent of patients had pain across all four physical abilities, with higher functional limitations present in those patients than in painless subjects.
  • Only 9 percent of patients (aged 50-59) who suffered from chronic pain were able to jog a mile, in comparison to 37 percent of patients in the same age group without any pain.
  • 50 percent of chronic pain sufferers (aged 50-59) were able to walk a few blocks without difficulty; however, 91 percent of same-aged subjects without any pain walked a few blocks without complications (Sources: Journal of the American Geriatric Society, UPI).

Providing some statistical evidence to the devastating effects of chronic pain, this study confirms what many chronic sufferers already feel on a daily basis.

Article continues below

Chronic Back Pain Sufferers Relate to Study Findings

A quick troll through our Pain Forums finds many personal accounts of younger patients explaining how their chronic pain makes them feel much older.

  • One 28-year-old, new member with chronic back pain over the last five years feels as if she’s 82!
  • A 24-year-old member with a cervical herniated disc complains of feeling 40 years older.
  • In response to the previous member, a chronic pain sufferer who is roughly 50 years old details looking older than his or her mother, who is 20 years older; thus supporting the study’s findings.

With chronic back pain and neck pain exerting such physical and mental tolls, it is important for patients to stay active through exercise and physical therapy (in addition to other pain management techniques) to prevent functional problems and preserve their abilities to perform certain physical activities as they age.

For more information on dealing with chronic pain that lasts more than three to six months, see our Health Center on chronic pain.

Post written by Staff Writer