Often spending their days hunched over phones, tablets or computers and their free time at spin class or playing sports, millennials are the next generation poised to experience chronic pain. Even at their young age, millennials say acute and chronic pain are already interfering with their quality of life.
But while older generations are more likely to turn to medication for pain relief, millennials’ preferred method is lifestyle changes such as exercising, eating right, quitting smoking and losing weight, according to a nationwide survey commissioned by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) in conjunction with September’s Pain Awareness Month.
The survey also found that millennials were half as likely as baby boomers to have turned to opioids to manage pain, and 1 in 5 millennials regret that they used the highly addictive painkillers.
But while the results reflect a positive trend, they also reveal a knowledge gap. The survey found many millennials were:
* More likely to obtain opioids inappropriately. One in 10 millennials (ages 18-36) obtained opioids through another household member’s prescription, compared to 3 percent of Gen Xers (37-52), 1 percent of baby boomers (53-71) and none of the silent generation (72-92).
* More likely to think it’s OK to take an opioid without a prescription. Nearly 30 percent of millennials thought it was OK to take an opioid without a prescription, compared to 20 percent of Gen Xers, 12 percent of baby boomers and 3 percent of the silent generation.
* AND less likely to dispose of leftover opioids safely. In fact, 1 in 5 millennials said they “did not know” the best way to safely dispose of opioids, and only 37 percent were aware that a collection center at a local police station, hospital pharmacy or drug store was the best method of disposal.
“It’s encouraging that millennials see the value of opting for safer and often more effective methods of managing pain,” said ASA President Jeffrey Plagenhoef, M.D. “But clearly they are in need of further education because using opioids initially to treat pain can turn into a lifelong struggle with addiction.”
Learning how to manage pain is vital: 75 percent of millennials say they have had acute pain (which comes on suddenly and lasts less than three months) and nearly 60 percent have experienced chronic pain (which lasts longer than three months). The source of that pain is reflective of millennials’ lifestyle, including technology use (leading to eye strain, neck aches, hand or finger pain, wrist or arm pain), migraines and sports injuries.
It’s important to address pain before it interferes with quality of life by seeing the right specialist for pain management. Whatever the age, people in severe pain who don’t find relief through lifestyle changes should see a physician who specializes in pain management, such as a physician anesthesiologist who has the expertise and training to best help manage pain.
To help all generations cope with pain, ASA offers the following tips:
* Take a break from devices and gaming. To avoid aches from smartphone, tablet and gaming overuse, use devices at eye level instead of looking down for long periods of time, which puts strain on your neck and back. To avoid digital eye strain, look away from the screen every 20 seconds and don’t sit too close to the screen.
* Don’t be a weekend warrior. Whether you plan to hit the basketball court after many years away or do CrossFit weekly, ease into it. Warm up your muscles and stretch to avoid pain and injury. If you think you’ve been injured, see a pain management specialist right away.
* Remember to move. Whether you’re in the library studying or at a desk job, get up and move at least once an hour, if not more.
* Get healthy. Take charge of your health now and engage in healthy lifestyle changes before chronic pain sets in. Maintain a healthy weight and eat a balanced diet. Quit smoking.
* Take and dispose of opioids the right way. If prescribed opioids, ask your physician questions about taking them appropriately. If you have leftover opioids, dispose of them at a collection center at a local police station, hospital pharmacy or drugstore. This will ensure that others who have not been prescribed the opioids do not have access to them.
For more information about pain treatment and the importance of seeing a physician anesthesiologist, visit the ASA’s pain management page at www.asahq.org/whensecondscount.