by Debra Fulghum Bruce, PhD
Whether you experience discomfort from menstrual cramps, joint aching, migraine headaches or the deep muscle pain of fibromyalgia, it's so easy to feel lost, overwhelmed and beaten down by chronic issues. Pain is your body's warning signal that there is a potential problem. Without this warning, you may cause irreparable injury.
Acute pain comes on suddenly and can be severe. Chronic pain is acute pain that lasts much longer than would be expected from the injury or problem. This is characterized by brain hormone abnormalities, low energy, mood disorders, muscle pain, and impaired mental and physical performance. Chronic pain worsens as neurochemical changes in the body increase your sensitivity to pain.
This guide will help you identify pain and learn the latest OTC medications, wraps and hot packs and natural therapies that may help to reduce or manage pain.
Types of Aches & Pain
Joint Pain & Osteoarthritis
Of the more than 100 types of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA), the wear and tear arthritis, is by far the most common. Osteoarthritis is most common in weight-bearing joints—the knees, hips, feet, and spine—and comes on gradually after months to years. Except for the intense joint pain, you usually do not feel sick and there is no unusual fatigue or tiredness as with the more serious inflammatory types of arthritis such as rheumatoid.
Muscle Pain & Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a complex rheumatic-type disorder characterized by widespread pain, decreased pain threshold or tender points and incapacitating fatigue. Fibromyalgia causes you to literally ache all over. You may have deep muscle pain, twitching, burning or stabbing pain. You can have disturbances in deep-level restful sleep, and mood disturbances or depression.
Back & Neck Pain
Both back and neck pain are very common these days. People who sit at computers for hours are at high risk for back pain. Disc disease, osteoarthritis and obesity are also causes of back pain. After getting a medical diagnosis of back pain, your doctor may recommend a multi-faceted treatment regimen of medications, exercise, moist heat and weight loss.
Nerve pain is a serious type of pain and is difficult to treat. With a pinched nerve, the pressure blocks the nerve's function, resulting in pain, numbness or weakness. Pinched nerves can occur at different places in the body, including the spine. Diabetic neuropathy is nerve pain that causes stabbing, tingling and numbness in the extremities. Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN) pain is facial pain that results in feelings of stabbing and throbbing. If nerve fibers are affected during a shingles (herpes zoster) outbreak, the result is excruciating sharp, blistering, burning or aching pain that can persist for months—even years.
Jaw & Facial Pain
Headaches are common with jaw pain, called temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ syndrome). Pain can be felt in the jaw just in front of the ear, or it may be felt over the side of the face and head and extend to the neck. The pain is often constant and worse with chewing. There may be cracking in the jaw when the mouth is opened. Pain may limit the opening of the jaw or the jaw may move to one side when it is opened.
Headaches & Migraines
Of all headache pain experienced, most are caused by tension headaches. Tension headaches (also called muscle contraction headaches) are the most common types of headaches and happen when the muscles of the neck tighten, causing pain. Some people describe tension headaches as feeling like you are wearing a hat that is several sizes too small. Migraines tend to strike women whenever estrogen, the neurotransmitter serotonin and beta-endorphins are low.
PMS & Cramps
Pain with PMS affects many women during their childbearing years. Some women have pain symptoms severe enough to disturb the routine of daily life with severe pain that is considered disabling. Menstrual cramps usually respond to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which blocks the effects of prostaglandins, the chemicals that cause inflammation, pain and swelling. Moist heat also helps reduce inflammation.
Ways to Relive Aches & Pain
While you can typically treat aches and pains at home, there are instances where medical attention is needed. If you have pain that is moderate to severe—persistent to progressive—and prohibits you from standard activities, you should call a doctor immediately. This might include joint swelling, tenderness, heat, fever, significant weight loss or changes in strength or sensation. If you're experiencing headaches with unending nausea, blurred vision, slurred speech, dizziness or difficulty in standing or sitting, you should also seek emergency treatment.
Natural Therapies for Stomach Pain
If you suffer with any type of GI pain, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or occasional heartburn, you might want to consider natural therapies for relief. The beneficial part of ginger exists in the root of the plant (known as rhizomes). Ginger has been traditionally used to treat stomach/gastrointestinal discomfort, indigestion, seasickness, food poisoning and more.
It's important to find a board certified specialist to diagnose, treat and manage your pain. some of the doctors who specialize in pain management include pain specialists, neurologists, gynecologists, rheumatologists and physiatrists.
For years, aspirin has been the remedy for anyone who suffered with a pain problem. Aspirin and other NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen and ketoprofen are used daily by millions of people worldwide. Even at low doses, aspirin can cause stomach problems and intestinal bleeding. At higher doses, aspirin may work to treat arthritis but it can lead to upset stomach, peptic ulcer and intestinal bleeding.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Other than aspirin, NSAIDs are the most heavily used drugs in the world. These medicines work as anti-inflammatory agents and pain relievers. Developed in the early 1960s, NSAIDs, like aspirin, block prostaglandin production. NSAIDs include products such as ibuprofen, ketoprofen and naproxen. These pain relievers are non-addictive and usually do not cause sedation or respiratory problems. NSAIDs can cause stomach problems.
Acetaminophen is a pain reliever—not a traditional NSAID. Many doctors prescribe acetaminophen for pain that does not stem from inflammation, because it does not affect prostaglandins. This is the only pain reliever that does not cause stomach upset and gastrointestinal bleeding, but it does not reduce inflammation in arthritis. If taken with alcohol, acetaminophen can cause liver damage.
Cox-2 Inhibitors, such as meloxicam, turn off the enzymes that cause inflammation and pain but do not turn off the enzymes necessary for stomach protection. People who take Cox-2 inhibitors for arthritis may enjoy the benefit of less pain without the nagging stomach problems. People with bursitis, tendonitis, psoriatic arthritis and fibromyalgia may also benefit with Cox-2 inhibitors.
Bodywork & Massage
A deep muscle massage can help to relax your body. Touch therapies boost endorphins, brain chemicals in the body that have an opioid effect. Also, massage helps to speed healing by increasing blood flow.
Avoiding stressful situations is vital to reduce pain, as stress may lower your immune defenses. Learn how to work periods of time-out or relaxation into your daily regimen to ease tension. Give your body a chance to recover each day. You will notice a dramatic difference in the pain you feel.
Salves, Rubs & Liniments
Many people find relief with rubs and salves. One particularly beneficial product is cayenne, which contains a substance known as capsaicin—a common remedy for arthritis pain when rubbed on the skin. Capsaicin relieves pain by acting on the sensory nerves and giving a counterirritant effect (something that causes irritation to a tissue to which it is applied, distracting from the original irritation—joint pain).
Acupuncture is the insertion of one or more dry needles into the skin and underlying tissues at specific acupuncture points. When the needles are gently twisted or stimulated, a measurable release of endorphins may go into the bloodstream, energy blocks are removed, and the flow of energy along the meridians is restored. Various endorphins block incoming pain information through the release of serotonin and norepinephrine. Some researchers believe that peripheral nerve stimulation can modify functional responses in the brain. In this way, the patient's pain tolerance is increased so that one acupuncture treatment may help alleviate chronic pain for weeks.
Exercise for Pain Relief
Moving around more is recommended for many types of pain, including back pain, joint and muscle pain, PMS and menstrual cramps and more. Exercise helps to improve blood flow throughout the abdomen and to increase endorphins, pain-relieving substances naturally produced by the body. If you need to lose weight to reduce pain, exercise can help with that too.
Glucosamine Repairs Cartilage
Glucosamine helps repair cartilage. The natural over-the-counter supplement glucosamine works for many in alleviating the pain and stiffness of arthritis. In the body, glucosamine is a naturally occurring amino sugar found in human joints and connective tissues. The body uses it for cartilage development and repair.
Pausing to recharge and relieve the stresses and pressures of our busy lives is an important part of maintaining a balanced and healthy life. Soaking in a bath of hot water and natural Epsom salts is a cost-effective, soothing way to relax, ease aches and sprains, and recharge for the next unstoppable day.
Most people find pain relief with applications of ice or moist heat on the painful area. You may use an ice pack, frozen bag of vegetables or crushed ice in a ziplock bag. For moist heat, choose a moist heating pad, warm, damp towel, or a hydrocollator pack. Try standing or sitting on a stool in the shower, letting warm water hit the injured area on the neck or back. A sitz bath—a warm water bath that covers the lower abdomen, hips and buttocks—or a Jacuzzi bath are other enjoyable ways to find pain relief. You can alternate ice compresses with the moist heat for optimal benefit. Also, you can use moist heat before and after exercise to make it less painful and more effective.
Slings, Wraps & Sleeves
To boost healing for shoulder or wrist injuries, it's good to have a sling, wrap or sleeve at home—just in case. Arm slings aid in immobilization for mild to moderate sprains/strains of the shoulder. Usually one size fits all and the sling can be worn on either the left or right side. An arm sling is perfect for post fracture care, tendonitis, bursitis and pre or post-operative care.
No home should be without a crutch or two, especially when someone stubs a toe, twists an ankle or has a flare-up of gout. Crutches offer extra stability when walking, allowing the injured foot, ankle or leg to rest. The extra-large tips on the crutch provide added stability to give you additional comfort when walking.
Aches & Pains Checklist