How to get rid of pain
NEARLY half of adults suffer from chronic pain – that’s people living with an ache that lasts more than three months.
Most see their GP about back pain, muscular and skeletal pain and headaches.
Dr Dawn Harper, star of TV’S Embarrassing Bodies, encounters patients in pain at literally every surgery.
She says: “We ask people to describe their pain as a burning pain, an aching pain, a sharp pain, because that helps us to differentiate what might be going on.
“Pain threshold is reduced when you’re sleep deprived, when you’re tense or when you’re down. Everybody’s experience of pain is very different.”
Eating and sleeping well, staying active and maintaining a healthy weight can help to stave off pain. But if you suffer, visiting your GP is a must, says Dr Dawn.
She adds: “They will want to know when it started, did something trigger it, can you describe the pain and whether it moves anywhere. Are there associated symptoms?”
Here Dr Dawn talks us through the most common types of pain and how to tackle
Muscular and skeletal pain
When you sprain a muscle, your brain knows it hurts and tells you not to use it.
If the pain is due to an injury from a particular exercise, then I advise rest.
But if you’ve injured your leg, for example, you can still do upper body work. And swimming is non-weightbearing.
People will often get muscle pain with something like flu.
But if you’ve got flu you wouldn’t even think about exercising.
It totally wipes you out – so rest, drink plenty and take simple painkillers.
Headaches and migraines
Tension headaches and migraines are the common pains. They can be related to posture and sitting in an awkward position. Eye strain can cause headaches – so think about getting them tested. Dehydration will give you a headache, particularly at this time of year, so stay well hydrated. Check the colour of your urine – it should be straw or champagne coloured. But headaches are often stress related. I get patients to write down all the things that stress them out.
It’s about identifying those triggers and working out the best way to deal with them.
We prescribe milder painkillers if we can as the stronger ones that contain opiates are addictive.
Over-the-counter painkillers are very effective, particularly paracetamol and ibuprofen, which also reduces any inflammation.
This is where pain fibres are kicking off and telling your body there’s something wrong when actually it’s just the nerve endings malfunctioning.
It causes a burning sensation and it is challenging to treat.
We can use different families of drugs rather than just painkillers – for instance, antidepressants to try to damp down the nerve endings, or anti-epileptic drugs.
This is a really common problem and I tend to treat it with simple painkillers in the first instance.
There are some prescription antiinflammatories specifically targeted at the uterus. They reduce blood flow which can help because monthly pains are associated with heavier periods.
A hot water bottle placed on the lower abdomen is also quite effective.
And we know that women who exercise tend to have less period pain.
Putting your back out is such a common problem. Nature would have us on all fours – your back’s natural position. So from the minute you get out of bed in the morning all the deep muscles in your back and your neck are working all day to keep you upright against gravity. When it goes wrong it can take quite a long time to recover. The most common cause is mechanical pain, muscular and skeletal, and we also see lot of disc problems. We ask a patient if there’s any altering of sensation – numbness or tingling – and what makes it better and what makes it worse. Is it better or worse walking around or lying down? We look at the range of movement too. As soon as we know there’s nothing sinister going on we cover up with painkillers to allow people to keep mobile. It’s important to maintain your core stability so we do encourage people to move around. Pilates encourages core stability – and osteopathy, chiropractic treatment and acupuncture are also effective.
Arthritic pain is common, particularly in knees, and excess weight will put more strain on your joints. Exercise becomes difficult if, for instance, you have a painful knee. But this is where swimming really comes into its own – the water takes all the strain off your joints while keeping them mobile. The most common arthritis we deal with is osteoarthritis, which can ease as people become more mobile throughout the day. We have pain management clinics where a specialist will take a detailed history of your condition and try a range of things. These include medication, vibration machines which distract the pain from the brain, pain relief injections under ultrasound guidance and psychological therapy. If we can’t stop chronic pain, we can teach people how to control it.