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Health & Wellness

Do Aches and Pains Depend on Age?

Doesn’t it seem odd that most individuals expect the natural aging process to translate into an ever-increasing list of aches, pain, and discomfort? And yet, as one report recently noted, chronic pain is in fact not a normal part of aging. 1 However, despite the fact that pain may not always accompany aging, medical experts agree that pain is more likely to occur with age. 2

Nevertheless, this is often due to avoidable factors like a lack of conditioning, inadequate amounts of daily exercise, and deficiencies in diet, as well as unchangeable factors like natural changes in the human body.

For example, backaches or pains typically emerge for individuals in their 30s and 40s and can be due to inadequate amounts of strength training, poor circulation and even loss of cartilage in the joints. Osteoarthritis is another age-related issue that can also result in aches and pains.

There is also the issue of chronic pain due to memory cell malfunction, neurological issues like hyperalgesia, and chronic stress. These are not age-related, specifically, but can worsen over time as the toll of chronic aches and pains adds up and exhausts the body.

So, to answer the question posed in the title above— yes and no. It helps to distinguish between age-related changes you can’t control and other factors in your life (and body) that you can.

For example, one of the key issues to consider when wondering about aging, pain, and discomfort, is the amount of stress you carry with you throughout your life.

Age The Barrel Effect

In her book, Is This Your Child?, Dr. Dorris Rapp presents the idea of a “barrel effect” in the body. Essentially, she asks readers to envision the different stresses (physical, mental and emotional) as being contained within a barrel inside the body. The contents of the barrel will change over time, with some periods of near fullness and others of near emptiness.

Her theory states that bodies cope better with stress if the barrel is empty or, at least, nowhere near full. When the barrel remains consistently close to overflow, however, and further stresses are added, the body cannot adjust to the stress. This can lead to malfunctions and disruptions to physical health and wellness, including the ways the body deals with pain.

As an example of the barrel effect, the doctor asks readers to imagine a child at the playground. This child is a toddler who readily agrees to depart for home one day but throws a tantrum when asked to leave the playground the next day.

Why such immense differences? The stress barrel on the second day is probably full to the brim, and whether it is that the child’s body is combatting a virus or their emotional stress is at higher levels, it causes an out of proportion reaction.

The same goes for adults, and though most adults have control over behaviors and reactions, few can control the ways that their cells respond to high amounts of stress and chronic demands on the body.

Because of this, the immune system and defense mechanisms, like nerves and pain receptors, can veer off course. Individuals may become far too sensitive to specific pain, and the longer cells and nerves misread the information, the greater the pain. Thus, it can seem as if aging is causing pain to worsen, when in fact it is stress.

Stress and Pain in the Aging Body Age

Most experts agree that pain and discomfort can worsen throughout the aging process upon exposure to chronic stress. Consider that the stress often manifests as tension headaches, sleep disorders, digestive issues and heartburn, rapid breathing, chronic fatigue, muscle tension, and even a weakened immune system. Essentially, a range of aches, pains, and general issues in the body can all be linked back to stress.

When this occurs for a longer period of time, as is the case with chronic stress, this can result in chronic pain. Stress aside, aging also affects health simply because certain systems slow down or change with age, which creates some conditions, but not necessarily translates to nonstop pain discomfort.

So, even though some aging-related consequences can’t be slowed down, the stress component to pain can most definitely be mediated:

    • Exercise More: Start gently, but try to move the entire body (including all of your joints) for a short time each day and avoid hours of sedentary behavior.

    • Eat a Healthy Diet: Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and fresh water.

    • Note Common Aches and Pains Related to Aging – Experts warn aging adults that there are some body parts that get used more than others throughout life and are therefore more prone to pain. 3 These areas are the neck, knees, hips, hands, wrists, and lower back. Protect them with gentle exercise and care.

    • Identify Stressors and Correctly Cope with Them: Meditation, journaling, hobbies, and getting good sleep can help you get stressors under control.


Despite popular belief, aging doesn’t have to be associated with chronic aches and pains. Leading a healthy and active lifestyle, as well as managing stress levels are the most important steps you can take to being happier, healthier, and pain-free in the present and future.

Photo Credits: 4PMproduction/, chuyanpis/, OcskayMark/

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