Pain management helps preserve quality of life.
What Is Pain?
Pain has been defined scientifically as an unpleasant, emotional and sensory experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.
Most types of arthritis are associated with pain that can be divided into two general categories: acute and chronic. Acute pain is temporary. Chronic pain ranges from mild to severe, and can last weeks, months, years, or even a lifetime.
Chronic pain is distressing because it affects the sufferer on many levels. It affects them:
- physically - with sensations of discomfort
- emotionally - with feelings of despondency and hopelessness
- psychologically - with depression and dissolving self-esteem
- socially - as they descend into isolation
- occupationally - as tasks become more difficult to perform
It is therefore imperative to manage your pain the best way possible to preserve quality of life. Despite the fact that chronic pain adversely affects the quality of life of patients, it is often poorly managed.
Pain Can Vary
Chronic pain is a major health problem and is one of the most weakening effects of arthritis. Pain can vary greatly from person to person and may come from different factors. These may include:
- inflammation (including joints, tendons and ligaments)
- muscle tension and strain
- nerve damage (neuralgias)
A combination of factors can also contribute to pain intensity. Each person has a different threshold and tolerance for pain, often affected by both physical and emotional factors.
A Vicious Cycle Of Pain
- Health Problems Cause Stress
- Stress Causes Muscle Tension
- Muscle Tension Increases Pain
Pain management techniques can sever this stress-tension-pain cycle.
Pain Management Techniques - Evaluating What Works
Better ways to manage pain are continually being sought. With pain relief as the goal, sufferers often try a variety of pain management techniques, determining which works best. The success or failure of each type of treatment is individual. What works for one person may not work for another person.
Medications can be used to reduce pain. Commonly prescribed pain medications include:
Pain medications serve to regain some level of comfort, but they do little to change the disease state. The amount of pain medication used must be controlled since there are known side effects.
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Exercise can help maintain function and lessen pain. People with arthritis should always discuss exercise plans with their doctor. Some exercises may be off-limits for people with a particular type of arthritis or when joints are swollen and inflamed.
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Hydrotherapy / Warm Water Therapy
Warm water therapy can decrease pain and stiffness. Exercising in a pool, swimspa, or hot tub may be easier because water takes some weight off painful joints. Some also find relief from the heat and movement provided by warm water exercise.
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Pain can also be an indicator of the need for rest. It is important to pay attention to the signal and allow the body the required time to recharge. Inflammation decreases during a restful phase, however too much stillness can lead to muscle weakness. It is essential to strike a balance between rest and exercise.
Massage therapy can hasten pain relief, soothe stiff sore muscles, and reduce inflammation and swelling. As muscle tension is relaxed and circulation is increased, pain is decreased.
TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) utilizes low-voltage electrical stimulation to the nerves to block pain signals to the brain. Electrodes are placed on the skin and emit the electrical charge. This is used primarily for chronic, localized pain which is intractable.
Often viewed as a last resort option, surgery can be performed with the goal of eliminating pain in a specific joint. Joint replacement surgery has become more common over the years, and is regarded as a viable option when all else has failed. The damaged and painful joint is removed and replaced with a prosthesis. Other surgical options include:
- arthrodesis (fusion)