Why Some Pain Feels Different

Ever notice how the aches and pains you feel when you have the flu are different from the pain you feel when sun burned? Or that cutting your finger hurts, but it hurts in a different way than stubbing your toe?

There are numerous types of pain receptors in the body, and the body interprets pain differently depending on what was stimulated. Signals from stretching or cutting of nerves are different than signals from inflammation and chronic injury.

Nociceptive Pain: Cuts and Breaks

Nociceptive pain occurs when tissues are damaged. An immediate signal is sent through the body to the brain that something has happened to stretch, cut or otherwise damage body tissues. This type of pain usually sets off an immediate reflex. For example if you put your hand on a hot surface the body immediately pulls the hand back.shutterstock_229165600

Neuropathic Pain: Nerves

Neuropathic pain develops when the damage is focused on the nerve fibers. This may shutterstock_268214585occur after an accident in which nerves were torn, but can also come from other causes. For example, diabetics suffer from neuropathic pain due to nerve damage brought on by the disease. Radiation treatments for cancer can damage nerves and lead to neuropathic pain.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRS): distributed pain

In complex regional pain syndrome there are a variety of symptoms. They include the pain itself, structural changes, an increase or decrease in sweating, muscle wasting and weakness. CRS is best managed by a pain specialist who understands the underlying injury and how to address all of the ways the body is reacting to both the injury, and the pain caused by that injury.

Pain Treatments

The first step in effectively treating pain is understanding the underlying cause of pain, removing any triggers that make the pain worse, and addressing the emotional and psychological effects of pain.

shutterstock_79104379Pain is worsened by fear, anxiety and worry. Individuals who suffer from chronic pain due to injury or disease are often worried about the pain, about themselves, their future, their loved ones and what will happen if pain gets in the way of normal function. Addressing those elements of pain can have a significant and beneficial impact on overall pain relief.

Pain is also worsened by inactivity, guarding and postural problems. Physical therapy helps the body stay balanced and effectively cope with pain. It helps relieve spasm, can return the body to the correct position and relieve strain on nearby muscles, nerves and limbs.

Pain medications are effective in treating some types of pain. There are also complications to be aware of. For example many pain medications just mask the pain, but do not actually relieve the pain. The effect is limited, and as soon as the medication wears off the pain returns. There are also side effects from medication, such as being sleepy, not being able to concentrate, no longer being able to work, having an increased risk of falls and digestive alterations such as constipation.

Alternative treatments such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, healthy diet and acupuncture are also shown to be effective.

The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed medical professional. It is essential that you discuss with your primary care provider any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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