It doesn’t surprise me when patients come to see me complaining they are in pain. More than 86 million Americans suffer pain and about 80% will experience back pain at least once in their lifetime. Pain is a major reason why people seek medical care. The question is how is it treated and what happens if pain persists?
I tell my patients that pain is not necessarily a bad thing. Pain can be a warning sign that something is physically wrong. Depending upon the individual’s pain threshold, pain can range from mild to severe; occasional or constant. Pain can either be acute or chronic meaning sudden or ongoing. Let me explain.
• Acute pain comes on suddenly and is usually sharp in quality letting you know that your body is threatened in some way. Most of the time acute pain is resolved quickly but can persist up to 6 months. It is important to heed the warning of acute pain to prevent it from becoming worse and to develop a treatment plan to alleviate the cause. Examples of acute pain are surgery, broken bones, dental work, burns and cuts.
• Chronic pain on the other hand lasts longer than 6 months and may be severe and remain even after the injury has healed. The physical effects of chronic pain can result in limited mobility, lack of appetite, energy level, and muscle tension. Chronic pain can be accompanied by emotional effects as well such as depression, anger, anxiety, and fear of recurring injury. Common types of chronic pain include headache, low back pain, cancer, arthritis, and nerve damage.
It is possible for people to suffer chronic pain even if they have never experienced an injury or have evidence of body damage. As a result chronic pain is more difficult to treat because there is no visible cause to explain the problem.
There are a number of ways to treat pain, many of which are very common such as non-prescription medications like aspirin, Tylenol or Ibuprofen. When pain is severe, stronger prescription medication may be required including morphine, codeine or anesthesia.
In my practice we work as a team of doctors to find the treatment that best suits the patient depending upon several factors; the history of the pain, its intensity, duration, aggravating and relieving conditions, and the cause of the pain.
Once the origin of the pain is determined, other forms of pain relief may be offered in combination with other methods such as electrical stimulation, physical therapy, surgery, psychological counseling, and Behavior modification.
In some cases it might be necessary to try various methods to maintain maximum pain relief. An X-ray called fluoroscopy is often used to find the precise location of the pain so that a medical injection reaches the appropriate spot.
What is Pain Management?
As you can see, there is no one solution to treating pain when it persists for a long period of time. The most common way to handle pain following an initial injury or trauma is to prescribe narcotic drugs. The downside to relying on prescription medications as a solution to pain management is the potential risk of dependency. Over time, you need more and more medication to numb the pain. Eventually your nerve cells in the brain stop functioning normally. Your body stops producing its own natural painkillers (endorphins) and waits for the next hit of drugs to take effect.
Although living with pain is not easy, drug dependency is even worse. Everybody is different when it comes to pain related issues as I mentioned earlier. Finding what works best for you is a subject that needs to be discussed between you and your doctor. It is important to consider a number of factors that might be adding to your pain such as lifestyle, diet, exercise, and your weight.
The addition of nutritional supplements and vitamins can also play an important role in helping you feel better without the risk of dependency. Never underestimate the value of natural pain relievers. Here are just a few:
• Flax seed – can be taken in liquid or powder form and it is a well-known nutritional supplement that can offer a wide variety of health benefits including joint pain relief.
• Flax seed oil – has been successful in helping people with osteoarthritis.
• Glucosamine MSM and Omega 3 fish oils – offer natural pain relief and even help to improve prostate health and lower cholesterol.
Another treatment for persistent pain that has become increasingly popular is acupuncture which helps the body to increase the release of endorphins. It has been effective in relieving headaches, facial and low back pain, arthritis and spastic colon.
Along with nutritional supplements and vitamins, other helpful pain remedies include massage, hydrotherapy, hot and cold packs to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Physical therapy and exercise strengthens muscles and allows the body to relax.
If you or someone you know is suffering with chronic pain, don’t despair. The body is a miraculous machine and when given the chance to function properly it will not disappoint you. If your present pain management system is not working for you, talk to your doctor about some of the natural remedies mentioned here. You might find the right combination of treating your pain will get you on the path to making you feel better both mentally and physically.
Mark Bromson, M.D.