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Pain: Top 10 Things You Need to Know

By Christine M. Wyrsch RN-BC, BSN, Med, Assistant Nurse Manager, Center for Pain Management

Pain can be both a blessing and a curse. It is the body’s natural response to injury or damage and acts as a warning system that something is wrong. Pain is a gift when our brain tells us to take our hand off of a hot stovetop to prevent injury. This is considered an adaptive response to pain.

Pain becomes a curse when is becomes persistent, like a fire alarm that continues to go off after the fire that triggered it has been put out. This type of chronic pain is very costly not only physically, but emotionally and financially as well.

Health economists have reported the annual cost of chronic pain in the United States is as high as $635 billion a year, which is more than the yearly costs for cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey calculated this economic burden by assessing cost of health care due to pain and indirect costs of pain from lower productivity. Pain can affect the individual on many levels and hinder one’s ability to work and function in society.

Here are 10 facts about pain to help you understand this complex sensation and prepare you to discuss your pain with your physician.

  1. Pain is complex and individual. We all have our own pain threshold or how much pain we can bear. Pain is a personal experience that is difficult to define and measure. It is important to  be clear with your physician when describing where the pain is, what it feels like, how long you have had the pain, what makes it better or worse, and how you’ve been treating it.
  2. Pain can be caused by many conditions and injuries. You can feel pain from head to toe, on the inside and outside of your body, on your skin, and even inside your bones and joints. Pain can start suddenly, like a broken leg or heart attack, or stick around for a while, such as arthritis pain.
  3. It is important to be honest about your pain. Always tell your doctor about all the medications you are taking, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements, or natural therapies. When in doubt, bring the bottles with you to your appointment. Medication interactions can change the way medications work, reducing the effectiveness or causing side effects.
  4. Pain is not a normal part of aging. As you get older it is common to notice more minor aches and pains. However, pain is not something that should be accepted or ignored. Although chronic pain is more common in older adults, there are many ways to manage and treat your pain.
  5. Most pain can be relieved or managed. No matter what type of pain you have, it is reasonable to believe there is help available. There are many approaches to pain management with medications, interventions, implants and therapies. If your doctor is unable to help you, ask to be referred to a pain specialist.
  6. You should not allow pain to persist. You may wait to treat pain and hope it will get better in time or take over-the-counter pain medications, but the longer pain is experienced, the harder it can be to control. Untreated pain can lead to complications, such as disruption in sleep, irregular eating patterns, loss of concentration, irritability, depression, as well as other issues within your body.
  7. Pain can have far-reaching effects on a person’s life. Pain effects every dimension of a person’s being, including the effect on family and friends. Depression and chronic pain can increase the risk for suicide. Family and friends often bear the strain of caretaking or accommodating the needs of their loved one.
  8. Pain medication addiction is not inevitable. For some, fear of becoming addicted prevents them from taking strong pain medication when needed. But if you take pain medication as directed by your physician, you are not likely to become addicted to opioid medications. Taking pain medication when needed does not make you “weak” but is actually an important step toward healing.
  9. Sharing pain medication is dangerous. Any medication prescribed to you should only be taken by you. Many of the people who abuse pain medication have acquired medication from friends or family members, not from their doctors. Always keep pain medications is a safe place and out of the reach of children and teenagers. Keep track of the amount of medication you have on hand to be sure no one else has been taking it.
  10. Ice and heat serve different pain relieving functions. Ice and heat are simple, low cost options for pain control. Ice reduces inflammation and slows down blood flow to the area where applied. Ice is more helpful in the day of or after an acute injury or if you have swelling. Heat boosts blood flow to the area of pain or injury and is best used after the swelling has gone down.

Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing chronic pain. If you need treatment, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital’s Center for Pain Management helps patients manage acute, chronic and cancer pain so that they can return to work and lead fuller, more productive lives. For more information about the Center for Pain Management, call (603) 740-2276.

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Pain Management

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