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Pain Management: An Overview

For many patients, pain is a fact of life – and not just before or after surgery. Pain is the body’s way of letting you know something is wrong and must be taken care of. Physicians have numerous interdisciplinary methods of helping patients deal with pain.

Pain is not “one size fits all.” Acute pain appears suddenly but has a limited duration. Damage to bones, organs or muscles can cause pain. Chronic pain lasts longer than acute pain, usually accompanies a long-term illness, such as cancer or arthritis, and is often constant. It may result from damaged tissue, but more often than not, chronic pain is caused by nerve damage.

Pain management is also called pain medicine or algiatry. The major aim of physicians working in this field is to ease patient suffering and improve the quality of life of people who are experiencing pain. A pain management team could include medical doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists and physical therapists.

The pain management team considers many factors when treating a patient’s pain: origin, intensity, duration. The team’s goal is to pinpoint the specific body structure that is generating the pain. Once this is discerned, the focus is on isolating and alleviating the pain.

Depending on the cause of the pain, a management protocol could incorporate drugs such as analgesics and opiates. Some of these may be prescription medications and some are over-the-counter medications. Muscle relaxers, antidepressants and prescription NSAIDs are often prescribed for patients in pain. Patients may use self-controlled analgesia. Steroid injections are used to reduce swelling and inflammation in joints.

But long-term chronic pain management also uses other techniques such as acupuncture or physical therapy. Sometimes pain is alleviated by the use of a combination of treatment options. Patients react differently to varying degrees of pain, so it is essential that a pain-management plan be highly individualized. It may also take some time to find the right combination of options to ease the patient’s pain. Physicians should also be aware of the psychological affects of pain. Chronic pain often sparks depression and anxiety.

By Tanya J. Tyler, Associate Editor



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