Friday, April 14, 2006
Pain... Purpose of Pain... What Worsens Pain... What Blocks Pain
What Is the Purpose of Pain? Pain is your body's alarm system. It tells you that something is wrong. When part of your body is injured or hurt, nerves in that area release chemical signals. Other nerves send these signals to your brain, where they are recognized as pain. Pain often tells you that you need to do something. For example, if you touch a hot stove, pain signals from your brain make you pull your hand away. This type of pain helps protect you. Long-lasting pain, such as arthritis pain, is different. While it tells you that something is wrong, it often isn't as easy to relieve. Managing this type of pain is important, because it can disrupt your life.The Pain Cycle Along with physical changes, such as movement limitations, the emotional ups and downs of your condition can add to your pain. If you feel depressed or stressed due to limited or lost abilities, your pain seems worse. You can get caught in a cycle of pain, limited abilities, lost abilities, stress, and depression that makes everything seem harder to handle.People react differently to pain for several reasons:Physical reasons: The sensitivity of your own nervous system and the severity of your condition determine how your body reacts to pain. These factors determine whether your nerves will send or block pain signals.Emotional and social reasons: Other factors that affect how you react to pain and how much pain you feel include your fears and anxieties about pain, previous experiences with pain, energy level, and the attitude about your condition. The way people around you react to pain also may affect how you personally react to pain.Whatever the reason, many people have discovered that by learning and practicing pain management skills, it is possible to reduce pain.How Does the Body Control Pain?Pain signals are sent through a complex system of nerves in your brain and spinal cord. Your body tries to stop these signals from reaching their destination by creating chemicals that help block pain signals. These chemicals, called endorphins, are morphine-like painkilling substances that decrease the pain sensation.The body produces endorphins in response to different kinds of "controls."These include "natural" controls, such as your own thoughts and emotions. For example: imagine that a father who is driving with his children is hurt in a car accident. The father is so worried about his children that he doesn't feel the pain from his own broken arm. The concern for his children has blocked the pain signal and kept the pain from affecting him.The body also produces endorphins in response to "outside" controls, such as medicine. Morphine is one example of a powerful pain-blocking medicine. Other outside pain control methods - such as exercise, relaxation, massage, and heat and cold treatment - can stimulate the body to either release endorphins or block pain signals in other ways.The following factors can make your pain feel worse:* increased disease activity* stress* excessive physical activity* dwelling on pain* fatigue* anxiety* depressionThe following exercises and techiques can block pain signals: * positive attitude and pleasant thoughts* carefully monitored exercise* relaxation* medication* massage* distraction* pleasing sights* topical lotions* humor* heat and cold treatments If most pain can be eased, why do so many people with pain suffer needlessly?Many of us have beliefs about pain that are simply not true and prevent us from getting the relief we deserve. The truth is: Pain is not something you "just have to live with." Treatments are available to relieve or lessen most pain. If untreated, pain can make other health problems worse, slow recovery, and interfere with healing. Get help right away; and don't let anyone suggest that your pain is simply "in your head."Not all doctors know how to treat pain. Your doctor should give the same attention to your pain as to any other health problems. But many doctors have had little training in pain care. If your doctor is unable to deal with your pain effectively, ask your doctor to consult with a specialist, or consider switching doctors.Pain medications rarely cause addiction. Morphine and similar pain medications, called opioids, can be highly effective for certain conditions. Unless you have a history of substance abuse, there is little risk of addiction when these medications are properly prescribed by a doctor and taken as directed. Physical dependence - which is not to be confused with addiction - occurs in the form of withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking these medications suddenly. This usually is not a problem if you go off your medications gradually.Most side effects from opioid pain medications can be managed. Nausea, drowsiness, itching, and most other side effects, caused by morphine and similar opioid medications, usually last only a few days. Constipation from these medications can usually be managed with laxatives, adequate fluid intake, and attention to diet. Ask your doctor to suggest ways that are best for you.If you act quickly when pain starts, you can often prevent it from getting worse. Take your medications when you first begin to experience pain. If your pain does get worse, talk with your doctor. Your doctor may safely prescribe higher doses or change the prescription. Non-drug therapies such as relaxation training and others can also help give you relief.