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What is Pain?
Pain is the uncomfortable feeling that warns you when something may be wrong in your body. The way pain is felt differs from person to person. The spinal cord and the nerves leading from it provide pathways for pain signals to be carried to and from the brain where the messages are processed. Acute and chronic pain – Pain is usually classified as either ‘acute’ or ‘chronic’. Acute pain is temporary and goes away, while chronic pain is always there, or comes back time after time. Many of us are most familiar with acute pain, because it is usually triggered by tissue damage such as that caused by an injury, surgery or an illness.
What Causes Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain can be caused by chronic conditions such as arthritis (sore aching joints) or fibromyalgia (aching muscles). Sometimes chronic pain can start with an injury that damages a nerve or the spinal cord. The pain may continue once the injury itself has healed because the nerves continue to send out pain signals. This type of pain is called ‘neuropathic pain’.
Another example of neuropathic pain can occur in people with diabetes when long term increases in blood sugar damage the small nerves in the hands and feet. This can cause a painful burning sensation in the affected areas.
Learning to Describe Pain Effectively
In order for healthcare providers to help you with your pain in the most optimal manner, it is important that they understand as much as they can about the pain that you are experiencing. It is important to be honest and open about how you are feeling. You can write down information about your pain and what helps to relieve it, and bring it with you to your doctor’s appointment.
Some questions you might want to address include:
- Where does it hurt? Does the pain move from one place to another?
- When does the pain occur? How long does it last? Is it always there or does it come and go? When does it begin and end?
- Does the pain keep you from doing all that you would like to do?
- Does pain interrupt your sleep or change your mood or affect your appetite?
- What do you think causes the pain?
- What makes it better? What makes it worse?
- What have you tried to relieve the pain?
- What medications are you taking now?
- How long does the medication take to work and how long does pain relief last?
- Do you have any side effects from medications you are taking? Do you have any allergies?
- Do you have any worries about taking medications for pain relief?
- On a scale of 0 to 10, what level of pain do you feel? How low on that scale would you like to get it with treatment?