Pain will affect everyone at some point in their life. Pain can occur suddenly or can come about slowly and may vary in intensity from mild to more severe pain. The presence of pain is usually an indication that something is wrong within the body. Pain can be acute (temporary)—usually lasting three months or less--or chronic (long term).
NOTE: In the event of an emergency, the Emergency Department is always the best place to seek immediate treatment.
How to Treat Pain at Home
Acute pain usually begins suddenly and may be caused by an injury, such as a broken bone, burn, and or sprains or strains. Dental work and other procedures can also cause acute pain. It can be mild or severe and can last weeks to months, but usually resolves once the underlying condition is treated or has healed. Acute pain does not last longer than 6 months.
For mild pain or minor injuries several types of treatment options may be effective:
- RICE stands for rest, ice, compression (with ace wrap or brace) and elevation of the site of the injury. When you ice an injury it should be no more than 20 minutes, and then 2 hours off. The ice helps relieve inflammation, swelling and muscle spasms.
- Sometimes alternating moist heat with 10-15 minutes of ice feels good.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a safe pain reliever for most people (but don’t mix with alcohol)
- NSAIDs (Ibuprofen or Aleve) help reduce inflammation and pain. These can cause upset stomach in some patients.
- Topical ointments or creams (lidocaine, Biofreeze, Aspercreme) help relieve pain at the site, which is ideal for, say, muscle pain in the back.
- OTC TENS unit. You can purchase one of these transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation units at a local pharmacy. They have electrodes that send stimulating impulses across the surface of the skin and along the nerve strands. This helps reduce the sensation of pain.
- It may even be helpful to employ the assistance of massage therapy or acupuncture.
When to See a Doctor
Patients should see a healthcare professional when the pain lasts longer than is reasonably expected, or is worsening despite treating at home.
The first step would be to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider (PCP). Most of the time pain can be managed by a PCP. When the pain lasts longer than 3-6 months, it is considered to be chronic in nature.
A PCP may prescribe medications, physical therapy, assisting devices to help with pain, or may choose to do some additional diagnostic imaging to look at the pain source more closely. Many—if not most—cases of acute pain are adequately treated and resolved by a PCP.
If your pain is not improving with measures prescribed by your PCP, or the underlying cause of the pain cannot be identified, it is time to be referred to a pain specialist.
When to See a Pain Specialist
Chronic pain is pain that continues even after an injury has healed, or is a pain that doesn’t improve or resolve over time despite treatment. Common sources of chronic pain include low back pain, cancer-related pain, arthritis and neuropathic type pain.
In these instances, a referral to a pain specialist, such as the providers at Deaconess Comprehensive Pain Center, can be the best option to bring the pain under control.
The staff at Deaconess Comprehensive Pain Centers specialize in managing pain that is uncontrolled, more complex, and/or affecting your quality of life and your work, relationships, etc.
When to Immediately Consult with A Physician
Shingles is a common problem affecting people of all ages, but it’s most often seen in patients 50 and over, or those who have compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients.
Shingles is a painful rash that follows nerves in the body. It’s a long-term side effect of chicken pox, because the virus continues to live in your body long after you had the infection. It can flare up and cause a searing pain that completely affects every moment of your life.
Deaconess Comprehensive Pain Centers treat a shingles patient upon receiving a referral from their physician. Early treatment from a specialist can not only relieve the pain at the time of the outbreak, but can reduce the likelihood of long-term complications such as postherpetic neuralgia.
Learn more information about shingles.
Listen To Your Body
If you find yourself in such serious and/or ongoing pain that you start questioning, “I wonder if I should see a doctor about this?” then it’s probably time to do so. Trust your own intuition and judgment about these things. Remember, pain is usually a sign that something is wrong in your body, and it is important to listen to these cues.
For more information about Deaconess Comprehensive Pain Centers, visit Deaconess.com/pain. Other pain-related blogs can be found at Deaconess.com/YourHealth.