Inflammation may occur more quickly and at a higher magnitude—and continue for a longer period of time—among older adults who experience pain, in comparison to younger adults.

In light of this, according to researchers in a recent study, older adults may benefit from taking anti-inflammatories soon after experiencing an injury or undergoing a procedure.

The study, conducted by scientists at University of Florida (UF) Health, was published recently in Experimental Gerontology.

In the study, Yenisel Cruz-Almeida, PhD, MSPH, an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of aging and geriatric research, and Joseph Riley, PhD, director of the pain clinical research unit in the UF Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence, measured the pain responses among eight healthy older adults (average age: 68) and nine healthy younger adults (average age: 21) using either heat applied to the feet or a cold ice bath, according to a media release from University of Florida.

After the first session, the patients rated their pain on a scale from 1 to 10 to help the researchers determine the participants’ pain sensitivity so they could recreate the same amount of pain for each participant in the subsequent sessions.

To study the inflammatory markers in the blood, the scientists inserted a catheter into each participant before inducing pain in order to collect the participant’s blood before the pain stimulus and then at three, 15, 30, 45, 60, and 90 minutes afterward.

After studying the results, the scientists suggest that the older adults had higher levels of inflammation when pain was induced than the younger adults, per the release.

The scientists also suggest from their results that when they induced pain in older adults, proteins associated with inflammation increased more than they did in younger participants and stayed in the bodies of older adults longer. In addition, they suggest that anti-inflammatory cytokines—proteins that soothe inflammation—peaked later for older adults than for younger adults.

When older adults have this kind of elevated inflammatory response, they’re more likely to have pain generated in the periphery of the body—their tissue and limbs outside of the spinal cord and brain, Riley notes in the release.

“If older adults are more likely to have these pain messages sent through the spinal cord to the brain, and the nervous system is being adapted to go through these changes, they may become more pain prone,” Riley states.

According to the release, while the study does not establish whether accumulation of acute pain predisposes older adults to chronic pain, the researchers suggest via their findings that this may be a possibility, and it could be the first step in pain research to further understand the relationship between pain and aging.

Take-aways from the research, according to Riley, could be to reduce pain quickly with anti-inflammatories.

“Early treatment of an injury even with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may be a good idea,” Riley says. “It’s those first few days of bombarding the central nervous system with pain signals that has a bigger effect (on the body).”

[Source(s): University of Florida, Science Daily]