Pain is an unpleasant sensation in animals that is caused by actual or perceived injury to body tissues and produces physical and emotional reactions. Presumably, pain sensation has evolved to protect our bodies from harm by causing us to perform certain actions and avoid others. Pain might be called a protector, a predictor, or simply a hassle. In this article, I will discuss some basic concepts of pain.
We all experience pain to greater or lesser degrees at various points of our lives. It is said that pain is the most common reason patients seek medical attention. But, each of us perceives a given pain stimulus in our own unique manner. The intensity of the response to a pain stimulus is largely subjective, meaning the severity of the pain can most accurately be defined by the person with the pain, rather than by other observers
Our individual pain perception can vary at different times, even in response to the identical stimulus. For example, an athlete during competition may not be able to feel the tissue injury of a cut or a bruise until the competition has finished. We may feel more or less pain depending on our mood, sleep pattern, hunger, or activity.
Pain is typically classified as either acute or chronic. Acute pain is of sudden onset and is usually the result of a clearly defined cause such as an injury. Acute pain resolves with the healing of its underlying cause. Chronic pain persists for weeks or months and is usually associated with an underlying condition, such as arthritis. The severity of chronic pain can be mild, moderate, or severe.
The treatment of pain depends on its cause and the overall health of the individual affected. The primary goal of pain treatment is to return the patient to optimal function. Treatments of pain can be classified as either non-medical or medical.
Non-medical treatment options for various forms of pain include observation, rest, stretching, exercise, weight reduction, heat or ice applications, and various alternative treatments including acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, manipulation, electrical stimulation, biofeedback, hypnosis, and surgical procedures.
Medical treatments include three basic drug forms to treat pain (analgesics): Non-opioid drugs, opioid drugs, and drugs that are used to complement other analgesics (adjuvant drugs).
Learn all about the types and treatments for pain. Read All About Pain »
The causes of musculoskeletal pain are varied. Muscle tissue can be damaged with the wear and tear of daily activities. Trauma to an area (jerking movements, auto accidents, falls, fractures, sprains, dislocations, and direct blows to the muscle) also can cause musculoskeletal pain. Other causes of pain include postural strain, repetitive movements, overuse, and prolonged immobilization. Changes in posture or poor body mechanics may bring about spinal alignment problems and muscle shortening, therefore causing other muscles to be misused and become painful.
People with musculoskeletal pain sometimes complain that their entire bodies ache. Their muscles may feel like they have been pulled or overworked. Sometimes the muscles twitch or burn. Symptoms vary from person to person, but the common symptoms are:
Your doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination and medical history. In addition, your doctor may perform diagnostic studies to confirm the diagnosis.
Different types of manual therapy, or mobilization, can be used to treat people with spinal alignment problems. For acute musculoskeletal pain, these techniques have been shown to speed recovery.
In patients with musculoskeletal disorders such as fibromyalgia, medications to increase the body's level of serotonin and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters that modulate sleep, pain, and immune system function) are prescribed in low doses. Some of the medicines used to aid sleep include Ambien, Klonopin, and Desyrel.
Other treatments may include:
Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Women's Health Center
Edited by Ephraim K Brenman, DO on March 01, 2007
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