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Understanding pain

Friday, August 15, 2014

By: Xinqian Chen, MD


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Understanding pain

 

Where does pain come from?

 

Chronic pain can be caused by many different factors. Some feel chronic pain from normal aging where the wear and tear of bones and joints causes inflammation. Others feel chronic pain from nerve damage or injuries that fail to heal properly. Certain diseases can be the underlying cause of chronic pain: rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia are some well-known causes. Other pains, such as chronic back pain, often result from lifestyle factors such as poor posture, improperly lifting heavy objects, being overweight or wearing high heels.

 

Why do people feel pain differently?

 

Studies have shown there are genetic differences in how people feel pain. For example, two patients undergoing the same surgery may report different levels of postoperative pain. There are also other non-genetic variables that interact with genetic factors to influence the pain experience. Studies have shown that pain perception involves response from the whole brain and thus is easily influenced and intensified by emotions, stressors, hormonal changes, and sometimes, simply thoughts.

 

How does acute pain differ from chronic pain?

 

Acute pain is a normal pain that is used by the body to warn the brain that the body has been injured. The brain uses this pain information to tell the body when it’s hurt and to remove itself from harm. Acute pain starts suddenly and generally does not last long. Chronic pain, however, can be indefinite and can itself become a disease.

 

When do you need to see a pain specialist for your chronic pain?

 

You should see a pain specialist when the pain lasts longer than expected. It is reasonable to consult the doctor if the pain lasts longer than normal without a definite reason. You should also call a doctor if you have issues sleeping, enjoying everyday activities, or have depression from chronic pain.

 

How is chronic pain treated?

 

The first step of treatment is through pain medication. Both over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription medications are helpful. Prescription pain relievers often prescribed include corticosteroids, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and opioids. Interventional procedures such as epidural injections, nerve blocks or nerve ablations (which destroy or remove the nerves that are sending pain signals) are frequently prescribed. Physical therapy is also regularly utilized to treat pain. Treatment is highly dependent on the diagnosis and how one responded to previous treatments.

 

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Chen Xinqian

Xinqian Chen, MD, is a Board Certified physiatrist and has been with BayCare Clinic Pain & Rehab Medicine since 2010. His special interests include pain management, neck pain, back pain, electrodiagnostic testing, stroke rehabilitation, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries, musculoskeletal disorders and multiple trauma rehabilitation. Outside of work, Dr. Chen is an avid outdoorsman and loves fishing and camping with his family. Learn more here.

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BayCare Clinic, baycare.net, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.