Pain is the body’s way of letting us know something is wrong and that we need to address it immediately. What do you do when you’re pierced by a sharp object or touch a hot surface? Unless you’re diagnosed with a congenital condition (like CIPA) that makes you insensitive to pain your reaction will be much like this: you pull away, assess the damage and try to make it feel better. Your response is automatic. This type of pain is acute pain, the type that begins suddenly and usually sharp in quality. It serves as a warning sign of disease or threat to the body. Acute pain can, if left untreated, might lead to chronic pain. Chronic pain, on the other hand, persists for weeks, months or even years and it affects around 76 million American.
How familiar are you with about pain and how it affects us across genders? Read the facts and accompanying tips.
1. Women Feel Pain More Intensely Than Men Do
Fact: Apart from the physical pain, we’ve come to understand that chronic pain, more than acute pain, affects us mentally. Like other kinds of psychological stress, pain can lead to anger and frustration, at times forming a vicious stress - pain cycle. This often intensifies the pain, making it difficult to concentrate and can even cause depression left if left untreated. Women world-wide experience more chronic pain than men. The pain women experience is more recurrent and more likely from multiple sources. These include pain from conditions like migraines and fibromyalgia. Hormonal changes every month tends to worsen pain intensity in women. Other biological differences have shown in studies that certain painkillers work better in men than in women. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this difference may be from the social and psychological differences between genders. There are multiple studies that have shown that women are more likely to experience side-effects from pain medicines. Women are also more likely to get depressed as a result of chronic pain. From a societal view and across cultures, boys are raised to be macho. For instance, in observing young children, we find that they learn to respond to pain based on the cues they get from adults around them. While some children are asked to ‘tough it out’ and ignore the pain while others may be cuddled and comforted. In ongoing research, the presence of higher levels of testosterone in males appears to elevate tolerance for pain. In short, men don’t ‘recognize pain’ while the estrogen in women acts like a switch that activates the ability to recognize pain.
Tip: Some proven stress-busters are yoga, exercise and meditation. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins and dopamine, chemicals that influence how we feel pain and play a role in reducing it. Breathing deeply and slowly exhaling for a few minutes also helps relieve. Think of it as your built-in stress reliever.
Engaging in physical activities that you enjoy or maintaining a regular exercise routine is one of the best ways you can take the reins in managing your pain.
2. The Brain Does Not Feel Pain
Fact: When you experience a headache, your brain does not actually ‘feel’ the pain because it has no pain receptors. Rather, the membrane covering the brain (meninges), muscles, cranial nerves and other pain-sensitive structures around it feel pain. The brains role is to interpret chemical signals produced at the site of pain which are relayed via nerves and the spinal cord. The brain then sends a message back to the site of the pain in fractions of a second causing you to pull away from the object causing pain.
Having no pain receptors, brain surgeons are able to operate on the brain once inside without applying anaesthesia to it. Patients are awake during the entire procedure. Using a method a method called mind-mapping, surgeons test small sections of brain tissue while noting the patients physical reactions. This is done so as to avoid unintentionally and irreversibly affecting speech, vision or other sense depending on the region being investigated.
Tip: A variety of medications can be prescribed to help you manage your chronic pain. There are some lifestyle and home remedies you can try. Exercises that emphasize muscle relaxation may help ease migraine headaches. Get just enough sleep; oversleeping can have the opposite effect and cause more pain. Rest and relaxation are important in this instance as well.
3. Osteoarthritis Pain
Fact: Contrary to common perceptions, exercise can help reduce or prevent pain. Simple exercises can keep joints, a common site of pain, flexible and strong. It also helps you lose weight, taking pressure off aching joints. Gentle movements from activities like yoga or tai chi let you conduct your workouts without adding undue stress to your joints. As you exercise, the muscles that you workout get stronger and help to maintain support for your joints.
Tip: The benefits of exercise are plentiful; from mood elevation, endurance and strength to relieving pain. Experts worldwide agree (and they don’t agree on much!) that it plays an important role in managing or preventing osteoarthritis pain. Exercise also increases blood supply to the bones and joints, improve sleep as well as help people with depression from chronic arthritis pain.
4. To Ease Pain, Kick The Habit
Fact: Several studies show that smoking tobacco increases your risk for back pain, the most common pain condition. The nicotine in the cigarettes reduce the absorption of calcium and restricts the flow of blood to the spinal discs that cushion the spinal bones. This increases the rate of degeneration, reduces bone formation (calcium absorption). For people with conditions like osteoarthritis, smoking doubles the risk of an osteoporotic fracture. More than 26 million Americans aged 20 - 64 suffer from back pain each year, spending upwards of $50 billion on back pain relief.
Tip: A combination of gentle, regular stretching (think pilates or yoga) and strengthening exercises can make a difference. Reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight will also help reduce strain and pain in your back and joints. Another great way to reduce back pain is to do what our parents and teachers always yell at us to do, ‘don’t slouch!’. Poor posture can strain muscles which in turn stresses your spine. It can also change the anatomical structure of your spine.
4. All Things In Moderation
Fact: Whenever pain gets unbearable, we often take to medication which can either be prescribed or over-the-counter. While taking two pills can be more effective than taking one after a severe injury, the effect backfires over time. According to medical research, pain medications may reduce your brain and spinal cords ability to interpret pain signals.
Tip: Prolonged and unmonitored [by a physician] use of pain relief medications can actually make your pain worse. Always consult with your doctor and take medication as prescribed.
5. Avoid Prolonged Bed Rest
Fact: Rest is important and can help a great deal but when it comes to back pain it’s best to stay moving or at least do it often. Laying down for prolonged periods will weakens your muscles and may make your pain worse. Findings from expert research show that complete bed rest is one of the worst things you can do. When you’re inactive, your body becomes deconditioned - this all goes back to how muscle stress/ strain affects pain. This causes even more pain when you eventually do move.
Tip: Modify your exercises whenever you’re experiencing episodes of acute pain however go about your activities and exercises as per doctors orders as often as you can. It’s important to stop when you feel pain or discomfort. No pain no gain is not a medically sound course of action.
6. If You Can’t Pinpoint The Location Of the Pain, It’s Not Real (False)
Fact: Pain specialist Dr. John F. Dombrowski explains: no test can measure the intensity or locate the point of pain with accuracy. For instance, back problems can masquerade as hip problems because there’s some overlap. Sciatica is one such instance; the pain can be felt in the hip.Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that pain can not be treated. Things such as your attitude can affect pain, especially when you focus on it. If there’s anything you should take away, it’s that you should listen to your body. Your active participation in maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy, being mindful and regular exercise can help you manage your pain better.
Tip: If you’re experiencing unexplained pain, your first step is to schedule an appointment with your physician. He or she will likely prescribe NSAIDs for two weeks or so. In the meantime, stay active because this, as we’ve established, works in your favor. If after two weeks there’s been no change or the pain gets worse, an appointment with a physical therapist will show you exercises that can strengthen muscles supporting your spine. The physical therapist will also show you exercises that are back-friendly. Nicotine in cigarette smoke and other tobacco products impedes microcirculation which makes your spine degenerate at a faster pace. Sometimes though, pinpointing the exact source of your pain is difficult. In such cases, help from a hip or spine specialist can be helpful. Exercises you can do include low impact maneuver exercises like yoga. Another important thing to know is that when you drop weight, it helps drop the pain. How much you weigh, can contribute to joint pain as well. Modifying your diet, how much you eat and maintaining an exercise schedule will help a lot with managing pain.
With chronic pain, the goal of treatment is to reduce the pain and improve function and while it can not be cured, you can still lead a full and productive life. Being more proactive has a bearing on how well you manage pain. For those with chronic pain, these pain management tips will help you identify things you can change to manage your pain. By taking the reins and using these tips, you’ll be on track to better managing your pain.