By Dr. Michael H. Lowenstein
The body has a reason for pain
Sometimes, life’s a pain.
Whether it’s aging joints, an injury, inflammation, overuse or nerve signals gone awry, pain can be barely noticeable… or all encompassing. As one of the signals the human body uses to convey distress, pain serves as an important factor of your nervous system, making you slow down and deal with the problem. But when it becomes overwhelming or too intense, it can cause us to stop moving entirely and makes everyday life difficult at times.
At that point, pain management comes into play.
But what is pain management, how do you treat pain and what are the mitigating factors in the issue? We’ll explore more here.
Take two and call me in the morning?
Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as taking a couple aspirin and calling the doctor in the morning. To treat pain, it’s very important to know what kind of pain it is and its source. That’s why it’s always important to see your doctor for any pain that does not quickly respond to conventional home remedies such as ice, anti-inflammatories, medicated muscle rubs or other treatments.
NOTE: This article is not intended as a substitute for a doctor’s care.
The basics of pain management treatment: 5 things to keep in mind
1. Is the pain acute or chronic?
There are two different types of pain, acute and chronic, and how they are treated and managed can differ greatly. When you stub your toe, have heartburn or even have a broken bone, this type of pain is acute. Though the pain of a broken bone can last for weeks or even months, it’s expected to eventually go away.
On the other hand, back pain caused by an injury, neuropathy pain in diabetic patients, and systemic pain in fibromyalgia syndrome are all examples of chronic pain. Though this type of pain can be treated and managed to provide better quality of life, it is not expected to go away.
2. Chronic pain can lead to mental and physical health problems.
Let’s face it: Being in serious pain is depressing!
When pain is left unmanaged, it can have serious consequences on your emotional state. You may limit your usual activities, making you feel as though you can no longer participate in activities you enjoy. The pain itself can cause you to forget items you’d usually remember, making you think you’re losing your mind.
Additionally, chronic pain can lead to other health issues, causing further medical intervention and emotional issues. Many people find that alternative treatments, such as meditation, cognitive-behavioral therapy and similar approaches are helpful in maintaining your emotional health while in pain.
3. Understanding the source of pain can help you decide the best treatment option.
Nerve: Nerve pain involves irritation of the nerves themselves. It includes neuropathic pain related to diabetes, pinched nerves or radiating pain from an irritated nerve root from your spine, such as sciatica pain from an irritated nerve stem, such as sciatica. It may not appear to have a specific source.
Muscle: Muscular pain happens when muscles are injured or overused, when you develop aches from the flu or heat cramps caused by low blood potassium levels. It can include facets of both nerve- and inflammation-related pain.
Inflammation: Inflammation serves a good purpose in the body, improving blood flow to an injury, allowing cell debris to be removed and improving the healing process. However, it can still be very painful especially if it is not treated timely and becomes chronic.
4. Using opiates: Weighing the risks vs. benefits of opiate tolerance and dependence
Are you planing to use medication therapy for managing chronic pain? One important consideration you’ll need to make is to weigh the risks vs. benefits of taking pain killer, opiate/opioid medications. One expected outcome of using this class of drug for pain relief is the development of drug dependence and/or tolerance to Rx pain medications.
Why and how does this occur?
When you exert yourself, you may experience a feeling of overall well-being. This is caused when your body releases endorphins that attach to receptors in the brain. Modern medicine takes advantage of this pathway by using opiate-based pain medications which either attach themselves to those same receptors or encourage the body to release endorphins to attach to the receptors, reducing experienced pain.
However, as time goes on, the effect of these medications can decrease. This tolerance occurs as the brain (and the body) become desensitized. This can turn into a vicious cycle, as dosage is increased to meet the higher pain level and the brain creates yet more receptors.
If you use opiate pain-based medication for an extended period, you may also experience dependence, when your body grows used to the medication and goes through withdrawals when you stop taking it.
Dependence on painkiller drugs may manifest as withdrawal symptoms when you stop or significantly reduce your daily dosing. While withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable and physically risky, it is seldom life-threatening. Before deciding on an adequate pain management plan that includes opiate/opioid drugs, please take into account the possible risks of dependence and tolerance of the drug.
5. Emotional and physiological opioid response and its connecting effects.
Opiate-based medications can cause both emotional and physiological responses, which can be difficult to distinguish between and are tightly tied together. Opiate medications can cause both physical and psychological dependencies and addictions, so it’s very important to work with your doctor while on these medications to monitor any related effects and their impact on your overall health.
Questions about creating a pain management plan
By being aware of these facets of pain management and treatment, you’ll have a better understanding of why pain happens and what can be done to stop it. Be sure to see your doctor for any pain that does not resolve within a short period of time, as it could signal a much larger problem.
Additionally, please let us know your thoughts or questions. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally or refer you to a professional who can help.