Welcome to the world of pain management! This guide contains useful information, tips, and suggestions gathered from comprehensive pain specialists. You will find information that serves as a guide to help readers get a better understanding of pain and pain management.
It’s important to note, however, this guide is not a means for self-diagnosis. For any pain you may be experiencing, seek help from a professional health care expert. If the pain is not urgent or life-threatening, visit a nearby MidSouth Pain Treatment Center. Let the experts find out what’s wrong and together learn the ways how to treat or manage the condition.
What is Pain?
In 2018, the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) updated their original 1979 definition of pain to “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.”
So many people around the world have experienced pain at least at one point in their lives. It’s that uncomfortable and definite feeling that something isn’t right. Pain is a very frustrating thing to feel and an experience nobody wants. When it occurs, it can be unbearable. When it’s over, the feeling of relief is incomparable.
Pain is a subjective experience. Most people know pain when they feel it. Pain can be described as excruciating, numbing, sharp, recurring, stabbing, or dull.
What can be very painful to one person may be mild to another. This makes the diagnosis of what causes pain a little bit more difficult for pain management professionals. And this makes the development of an accurate pain testing mechanism quite difficult.
As pain is mostly subjective, using an arbitrary scale can help communicate the situation to a medical professional. In the 1970s McGill University’s Dr. Ronald Melzack and Dr. Warren Torgerson created a quantitative measure for pain. They came up with a numerical scale to help patients describe their pain conditions.
Dr. Melzack wrote in the 1975 edition of the Journal of Pain that
“The McGill Pain Questionnaire consists primarily of three major classes of word descriptors—sensory, affective, and evaluative—that are used by patients to specify subjective pain experience. It also contains an intensity scale and other items to determine the properties of pain experience.”
However, the McGill pain questionnaire eventually gave way to even a simpler form of describing pain. Enter the tandem of Connie Baker and Dr. Donna Wong. Originally created to help children communicate their pain levels, the Wong-Baker Faces scale utilizes six faces and a 1-10 rating. The ratings start with 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain possible).
Identifying Your Pain
Chronic Pain vs. Acute Pain
Fundamentally, there are two types of pain: chronic and acute pain. The major difference lies in the duration. Acute pain is the body’s immediate response to an injury. Pain suddenly begins and usually subsides depending on the extent of the injury. Think of a cut, sprain, or fracture. Once the injury occurs, the body will begin feeling pain in the affected area. If the pain begins to subside or disappear after treatment, it’s categorized as acute pain.
On the other hand, chronic pain is a persistent, lingering type. Once the pain felt continues to manifest for more than 12 weeks, it’s often chronic in nature. This applies even to injuries already treated or healed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 20.4% of U.S. adults, or 50 million, suffer from chronic pain. 8% or 19.6 million suffer from high-impact chronic pain. Among Americans, higher prevalences of chronic pain occur among the following groups:
- Older adults
- Previously employed but currently unemployed adults
- Poverty level adults
- Adults with public health insurance
- Rural residents
The Four Categories of Pain
Apart from acute and chronic pain, there are different pain categories. By pinpointing how the pain originated and what the overlying symptoms are, comprehensive pain specialists can come up with a more accurate diagnosis and suggest the best treatment.
The four categories of pain are by no means exclusive from each other. Unfortunately, pain is a very fluid experience that a person can feel one or more types at the same time. Until the pain management professional can come up with the correct diagnosis, options to remove or manage the pain can help immensely.
1. Nociceptive Pain
Nociceptive pain refers to pain felt upon damage or injury to the tissues. Common household injuries like sprains, bruises, fractures, blockages, and others. This is named after the nociceptors, which are nerves that pick up the damage signals from the body and respond with pain.
2. Inflammatory Pain
Inflammatory pain happens when the body’s immune system overreacts to a perceived threat in the body. Chemicals from your body's white blood cells enter your blood or tissues to protect your body from detected invaders. Consequently, blood flows to the affected area which can cause redness or warmth. When these antibodies leak to tissues, swelling happens. Allergic reactions or infections are some of the major reasons for inflammatory pain.
3. Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic pain is often described as a shooting or burning sensation. Neuropathic pain often results from nerve damage or a nervous system gone haywire. Sometimes, the organs in charge of detecting pain also get injured. Once they do, they begin running amok over the entire body. In the case of phantom limb syndrome the retained nerves, which are probably damaged, continue carrying nerve impulses to the brain despite the absence of the limb. Other causes of neuropathic pain include side effects from medication, virus infections, cancer, vascular issues, alcoholism, and neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis.
4. Functional Pain
Functional is basically pain that doesn’t have an immediate physical explanation. So, everything that doesn’t fit in the above pain types get lumped here. This pain is often experienced as a result of high stress, anxiety, or depression.
How Pain Travels Throughout the Body
Despite its bad reputation, pain is actually a protective mechanism that prevents people from harming themselves further. Embedded throughout the human body are billions of pain receptors that can detect the slightest danger. Each square centimeter of skin contains around 200 pain receptors.
These pain receptors connect to nerves, which in turn connect to the spinal cord and the brain. Once these receptors feel imminent danger, like burning, or a sharp object, they send the signal to the brain. In return, the brain transmits an order to react. This can make the body perform a reflex action and pull away from the danger. This happens before the sensation of pain happens. But, when the thalamus receives the danger signal, it processes the information and produces the sensation of pain. The thalamus also controls mood and arousal, so the manifestation of pain might come out differently depending on the person’s mental or emotional state.
The Importance of Managing Pain
While most feelings of pain are easily attributable to underlying causes, sometimes pain is just present for no reason. Take again the example of phantom limb syndrome. It’s the feeling of pain in a part of the body already removed. Think of an itchy left knee a few days after surgery removed it. How do you treat something that isn’t there?
In addition, a person’s emotional state can reduce or magnify the pain felt. This is why the need to understand and manage pain is crucial to recovery efforts. When the pain doesn’t have an underlying explanation, or just won’t go away, managing the pain is the next best thing.
Pain Management From Comprehensive Pain Specialists
While acute pain almost always goes away once the underlying symptoms are treated, chronic pain lingers is a different matter. Without a definite diagnosis, or even worse, an untreatable one, chronic pain can cause disruptions in the daily lives of sufferers.
It’s easy to say “grin and bear it!” when talking to a person dealing with a toothache. But, what do you say to people suffering from debilitating conditions such as arthritis, scoliosis, fibromyalgia, migraines? Symptoms for some chronic sufferers may take years to manifest for doctors to get a full prognosis. Even then, therapies can take a while to complete, and they cannot guarantee results.
This is where pain management comes in. Comprehensive Pain Specialists can evaluate, diagnose, and treat pain. Many have earned certifications in related specialties such as sports medicine, oncology, or neuropathy in order to better understand and treat pain.
Comprehensive Pain Specialists help patients resume daily activities by working to create a relatively pain-free environment thus helping to improve the quality of life for chronic sufferers.
Pinpointing the cause of pain can help find the solutions to managing the condition. Often, the same symptoms can occur for a multitude of diseases. Back pain, for example, can be caused by anything from hernia to osteoarthritis to nerve damage. Of course, getting the correct diagnosis can take time and a battery of tests.
Types of Pain Management Treatments
Managing the pain is the next best thing to consider if treating the disease proves more complicated than expected. The solutions presented by pain management specialists are varied as well, catering to patients’ specific requirements across the spectrum.
While medication in the form of painkillers or muscle relaxers seem like a popular choice, the risks associated with drugs are well-documented. While these over-the-counter medicines and muscle relaxers can take away pain, they can be habit-forming or produce even worse side effects. In addition, they often work on the central nervous system and not on the actual problem area.
Surgery, another popular option, carries a heftier price tag and also carries risks. Sometimes complications from major surgeries do happen and leave patients in more pain. Consequently, surgeries should be considered a last resort method when dealing with pain management.
For more benign cases of chronic pain, comprehensive pain specialists can look into a patient's physical condition and suggest changes that not only reduce pain but also improve the general health and fitness of the individual.
This includes advice on nutrition and physical fitness. Reducing weight on heavyset individuals can lessen the lighten the body’s physical load and help joints, bones, and muscles recover faster. Complementary therapies such as massages, exercise, chiropractic care, and even yoga classes, can induce patients into an improved state of relaxation while the body heals itself.
Interventional Pain Treatments
Interventional pain treatments are a popular and widely-accepted method to deal with both acute and chronic pain. The method applies modern pain-blocking techniques at the point where the pain originates.
- Compared to muscle relaxers, which work on the central nervous system, interventional pain treatments go directly to the source of the pain.
- Compared to surgery, this treatment requires minimally invasive procedures.
They often consist of a single puncture to deliver the steroidal medication and an anesthetic directly into the target area. Interventional pain treatments often provide immediate or near-immediate pain relief upon completion of the procedure.
Steroid and Anesthetic Injections
Chronic pain sufferers often miss out on simple pleasures like walking or standing up straight. Depending on the diagnosis, interventional pain treatments using direct injection of steroids and an anesthetic can help remove or reduce pain. What’s more, they work almost immediately after the procedure, offering instant relief for patients. Treatments that use this method include the following:
- A caudal steroid injection consists of both steroid medication and a local anesthetic, targeting the caudal area of the back located at the end of the tailbone.
- A celiac plexus block directly injects pain medication to numb the celiac plexus.
- A cervical steroid injection directly injects medication in the cervical spine to eliminate severe neck pain.
- Epidural steroid injections can provide relief from chronic conditions such as degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, sciatica, and spinal stenosis.
- Facet injections also reduce pain from spinal stenosis, herniated discs, and spondylosis via direct injection of medication to the facet joints.
- A medial branch block alleviates the pain for acute or chronic neck and back pain by injection medication to the medial nerve area of the spine.
- A sympathetic nerve block directly injects pain medication around ganglion nerve bundles. They help reduce pain common in vascular, visceral, or neuropathic pain symptoms.
- A sphenopalatine ganglion block delivers pain medication directly into the sphenopalatine ganglion beneath the nose. This treatment helps sufferers of migraine, cluster headaches, and trigeminal neuralgia (nerve responsible for sensation in the face).
- A stellate ganglion block injects anesthetic medication directly to the stellate ganglion located in the neck vertebrae. It reduces pain from musculoskeletal injuries.
- A sacroiliac steroid injection quickly reduces pain and inflammation in the sacroiliac joint, specifically near irritated nerve roots.
- A superior hypogastric plexus block introduces an anesthetic directly to the superior hypogastric plexus in the pelvic region.
Signal Stimulation Treatments
Instead of using pain medication injections, these treatments generate radio signals that mimic nerve signals. These artificial signals modulate the actual nerves.
- A dorsal root ganglion treatment can reduce the pain brought about by Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). A pulse generator implant delivers signals that modulate the dorsal root ganglion.
- Radiofrequency ablation procedure involves the use of specialized probes placed along the body to track where nerve pain originates. The probes then deliver electric signals and disrupt specific nerve activity. RAP helps reduce back and neck pain, as well as pain from trigeminal neuralgia and chronic pain syndromes.
Finding Comprehensive Pain Specialists for Pain Management
Relief is available for chronic pain sufferers. It’s a matter of exploring options and seeing which treatment works best for your particular condition. Visit MidSouth Pain Treatment Center and get expert consultation and advice from our staff of pain management experts.
Our medical providers take a completely individualized approach when devising specific treatment plans. No matter how painful your condition, or how complex the diagnosis may seem, we believe that there are solutions for everybody.
You don’t have to suffer in silence. Schedule an appointment today, and tell us all about the pain you’re experiencing. We’ll be glad to help!