Older Adults_Bars-Geriatric Pain

FAST FACTS: Pain 101

Pain 101

Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.  There are two main categories of pain: Acute Pain and Persistent or Chronic Pain.  

Acute Pain

  • Has a distinct beginning
  • Usually has a known cause
  • Short lasting
  • Common causes are trauma or postsurgical pain

Persistent or Chronic Pain

  • Does not resolve in the expected amount of time
  • Often associated with damage to the body and psychological issues
  • May occur without any past injury or trauma
  • Can vary in character and intensity over time
  • Chronic pain occurs at least half of the days for 6 months or more; after 6 months, is it called persistent pain   

Pain Assessment

  • To determine the best course of treatment, your healthcare provider will perform a complete evaluation to determine:
    • Underlying cause of pain
    • Pain characteristics
    • Impact of pain on physical, emotional, and social functioning, and quality of life
  • Your report of pain is the most reliable evidence of intensity and impact on function
    • Your healthcare provider should assess for pain at each visit and use a standard pain scale

Pain Management

  • The goal of pain management is to find the correct balance between pain relief, functional impairment, and side effects of any medication used for to treat pain. A combination of drug and nondrug treatments may lower the dose of medications needed and reduce side effects from those medications
  • Nondrug treatment approaches may include physical and psychosocial therapies.
    • Physical Therapy examples: exercise (walking, tai chi, yogi), Acupuncture, TENS, Massage, Heat.
    • Psychosocial Therapy examples: Cognitive-Behavioral therapy, Guided Imagery with progressive muscle relaxation, Music, Meditation

What Else You Should Do

  • Write down and share information about your pain with your healthcare provider
  • Use a Pain Diary to note important information useful to the healthcare provider
  • Try a non-drug treatment and document the impact on your pain in your Pain Diary


  1. Reuben DB, Herr KA, Pacala JT, et al. Geriatrics At Your Fingertips: 2021, 23rd Edition. New York: The American Geriatrics Society; 2021.

Revised January 2022

PDF Download