Pain: What Is Your Body Trying To Tell You?

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We have all experienced pain at one time or another. Pain can be defined as anything that makes you feel physically, mentally, or emotionally uncomfortable; a noticeable difference from the way you normally feel.

Pain is typically categorized into two broad areas: acute and chronic. According to Ann Berger, MSN, MD and C. B. DeSwaan, acute pain is easier to diagnose and treat than chronic pain. It usually occurs after an injury and people in this state look like they are in pain. This type of pain usually disappears when the injury heals. If you break your nose in a fall or cut yourself, you probably feel the pain pulsing like a silent alarm throughout your body. With acute pain, your heart rate, respiratory rate, fight–or–flight response, and sweating increase. While acute pain is severe, the good news is that it lasts a relatively short time. Conversely, chronic pain is not one thing, but a condition that varies depending on the person. The variables include where the pain is, what its cause is, and how an injury heals. In some cases, the pain is simply inexplicable. However, one description is consistently true: all chronic pain is long–term pain that persists even after healing has occurred or when the condition that is causing the pain does not go away.

Treatment of chronic pain usually involves medicines and therapy. Medicines used for chronic pain include pain relievers, antidepressants and anticonvulsants. Different types of medicines help people with different types of pain. You usually use long–acting medicines for constant pain. Short–acting medicines treat pain that comes and goes. Physical therapy (such as stretching and strengthening activities) and low–impact exercise (such as walking, swimming or biking) can help reduce the pain. However, exercising too much or not at all can hurt chronic pain patients. Occupational therapy teaches you how to pace yourself and how to do ordinary tasks differently so you will not hurt yourself. Behavioral therapy can reduce your pain through methods (such as meditation and yoga) that help you relax. It can also help decrease stress.

Lifestyle changes are also an important part of treatment for chronic pain. Getting regular sleep at night and not taking daytime naps may help. Most importantly, quit smoking! The nicotine in cigarettes can make some medicines less effective; moreover, smokers tend to have more pain than nonsmokers. In short, most pain treatments will not take away all of your pain, but whatever treatment your doctor prescribes should reduce how much pain you have and how often it occurs. It is important to talk to your doctor to learn how to best control your pain.

With availability of more and more tools and approaches geared towards relieving pain, physicians have a wide array drugs and therapies that they can prescribe for pain management. However, it is still estimated that 50 million Americans suffer with chronic pain. Pain is the number one complaint of older Americans, and one in five older Americans takes a painkiller regularly. In 1998, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) issued guidelines for the management of pain in older people. The AGS panel addressed the incorporation of several non–drug approaches in patients’ treatment plans, including exercise.

Far too many people do not receive adequate pain care due, in part, to the persisting stigma surrounding pain medications and the perception that federal regulations impede practitioners from delivering the best possible care in a timely manner. Thus, organizations like The American Pain Society bring together a diverse group of scientists, clinicians and other professionals who continue to work to increase the knowledge of pain and transform public policy and clinical practice to reduce pain–related suffering. One thing is certain, if we listen to our pain, we might learn something about our bodies.

For more information, contact the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged, Inc. at 202–637–8400 or visit www.ncba–aged.org.

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