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What is Pain, Really?

Raj N. Sureja, MD
The on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary defines pain as:

  1. localized physical suffering associated with bodily disorder (as a disease or an injury);
  2. also : a basic bodily sensation induced by a noxious stimulus, received by naked nerve endings, characterized by physical discomfort (as pricking, throbbing, or aching), and typically leading to evasive action b :  acute mental or emotional distress or suffering

No matter if it causes prolonged and unbearable suffering or is just a nagging inconvenience from time to time, pain is the number one reason motivating people to seek medical treatment. Pain can be caused by many factors; such as injury, disease, arthritis, stress, emotional trauma, etc.  It is so prevalent that medical specialties were developed to treat only patients whose main complaint is chronic pain.
When it comes to talking about pain, we usually find it difficult to communicate how we feel. Anyone who has had pain knows they have had it, but many of my patients find pain hard to describe exactly.   Many times, I have to prompt patients with verbs and adjectives used to describe the symptoms of pain:  throbbing, burning, stabbing, aching or stinging or dull, sharp, on and off, or constant.  If you asked ten patients to describe pain, you would get ten different answers.
Some patients tell me “my physician told me that my pain was in my head and I would have to learn to live with it”.  That certainly is not the case for most patients and doing so can even be harmful.  Why?  Pain keeps you from being active and maintaining your muscles and bone strength.  The constant stress of pain can weaken your immune system, cause depression and anxiety, and lead to malnutrition from a decrease in appetite. It can cause you to seek relief by drinking too much alcohol, using drugs inappropriately, eating too much or too little, or withdrawing from social, work, and physical activities.  These behaviors may give temporary relief, but the underlying problem is still unaddressed.
What we do know is that pain is real, it can be multifactorial, and  it is usually treatable and manageable.   Even if you suffer from chronic pain and have experienced it for many years, you can still be treated successfully for your pain.  It is never too late and you are never too old get relief.
The first step is to make an appointment with a physician qualified to treat your pain.  That may be your Primary Care Physician, or you may require a specialist, depending on your condition.  It is important to find the root cause of your pain, whether it be from a condition like arthritis or a neurologic problem.  Some conditions can be life-threatening if untreated.
You may be sent to see a Pain Management Specialist, like me.  I specialize in Interventional Pain Management, which means I will try to identify the cause of the pain and intervene with the appropriate medication(s), procedure, psychological care, physical therapy or even a referral for surgery.  My goal is to diagnose the pain generator and do my best to reduce your pain and suffering.
If you or someone you know has untreated chronic pain, do yourself or them a favor by making an appointment today with a healthcare provider for treatment.  Chronic pain can affect every aspect of your life, and it is much too short to not live life as fully as possible.

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