|A Symptom of Many Diseases|
|Talking to Your Doctor About Pain|
|How Social Workers Can Help|
Throbbing, burning, aching, stinging–the terms patients use to describe pain are often different because pain is personal and subjective and influenced by age, gender, race/ethnicity, and psychosocial factors. The International Association for the Study of Pain defines it as an unpleasant experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage to a person’s body.
There are two basic forms of physical pain: acute and chronic.
Acute pain, for the most part, results from disease, inflammation, or injury to tissues. It is immediate and usually of a short duration. Acute pain is a normal response to injury and may be accompanied by anxiety or emotional distress. The cause of acute pain can usually be diagnosed and treated.
Chronic pain is continuous pain that persists for more than 3 months, and beyond the time of normal healing. It ranges from mild to severe and can last weeks, months, or years to a lifetime. The cause of chronic pain is not always evident, although it can be brought on by chronic conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. Chronic pain can often interfere with a patient’s quality of life, sleep, and productivity.
Pain often accompanies diseases of the bones, muscles, joints, and skin, which affect millions of Americans. Most of these diseases are chronic and may cause lifelong pain. In certain cases, such as with some rheumatic diseases, the sources of pain may include inflammation of the synovial membrane (tissue that lines the joints), the tendons, or the ligaments; muscle strain; and muscle fatigue. A combination of these factors contributes to the intensity of the pain. Muscle inflammation characterizes other painful disorders such as polymyositis (characterized by inflamed and tender muscles throughout the body, particularly those of the shoulder and hip) and dermatomyositis (characterized by patchy red rashes around the knuckles, eyes, and other parts of the body, along with chronic inflammation of the muscles).
In other cases, such as with myofascial pain syndromes, the cause of the pain is unknown. Myofascial pain syndromes affect sensitive areas known as trigger points, located within the body’s muscles. It is important to consult with a physician to help determine the cause and treatment for your pain.
Pain is managed by the patient and his or her health care providers. In order to help assess the cause and treatment for your pain, a doctor will usually do the following:
- Take your medical history
- Review any medications you are using
- Conduct a physical examination to determine the causes of pain and how this pain is affecting your ability to function
- Take blood and/or urine samples and request necessary laboratory work
- Ask you to have x rays taken or undergo other imaging procedures such as a CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
There is no medical test that can convey the level of pain you are feeling. Only you can describe your pain. In order to provide an accurate description of your pain, it may be helpful to share the answers to the following questions with your doctor:
- How long have you had pain?
- Where is the pain located?
- Does the pain come and go or is it continuous?
- What makes the pain better or worse?
- Has the pain changed since your last visit with your doctor?
- What medications or treatments have you tried for the pain?
After you have been evaluated by your doctor, he or she will discuss the findings with you and design a comprehensive management plan for your pain. There are currently many treatment options available for pain, and scientists believe that research can help lead to more and better treatments for pain in the future.
There are highly trained, licensed clinical social workers who expertise in pain management. They can help you locate resources for help, teach skills and strategies to enhance your life such as relaxation techniques and breathing exercises. They can also help you take your medicines correctly — taking the correct doses as scheduled. To find a licensed clinical social worker in your area, click here.