What can be sharp or dull, can come and go or be constant, and be one place at a time or all over? If you answered pain, you would be right. Pain is a feeling that originates in the nervous system. If you did not feel pain, you could seriously injure yourself without knowing it or not realize you have a medical condition that requires treatment. Pain usually goes away once the problem is treated, but sometimes pain can be constant, or chronic, and last for days, weeks, months or even years.
Chronic pain can be due to an ongoing health condition, such as arthritis or cancer, or the source may be unknown. If not treated, chronic pain could eventually decrease strength, affect coordination, interfere with daily activities and even cause depression.
Treating chronic pain usually will not relieve all the pain, but it should at least reduce the level of pain and how frequently it occurs. Some common treatments for chronic pain include medications, acupuncture, nerve blocks, electrical stimulation, brain stimulation and surgery.
Medications that can be taken to help alleviate chronic pain include:
- Analgesics, such as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen. These painkillers are available without a prescription for most mild to moderate pain. Higher levels of pain can be treated with prescription pain relievers.
- COX-2 inhibitors. These medications may be effective for those with arthritis.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Antimigraine drugs.
- Opioids. These drugs should be used with caution because they can cause dependency.
Acupuncture has been used for more than 2,500 years. It involves applying needles to specific points on the body. However, it is not appropriate for everyone and is considered somewhat controversial.
Nerve blocks and nerve injection treatments use local anesthetic drugs to help block pain signals. The anesthetic medication can be injected into a group of nerves that controls pain signals for a body part or region (nerve block) or injected around nerve roots or into muscles or joints. A steroid medication may be added to the injection treatments to reduce swelling.
Electrical stimulation involves subjecting nerves of muscles to a variety of stimuli, such as heat or massage. There are several different kinds of electrical stimulation. Transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS) uses tiny electrical pulses to cause changes in muscles, including numbness or contractions. Peripheral nerve stimulation uses surgically implanted electrodes placed on designated areas through which the patient can deliver electrical current as needed using an antenna and transmitter. Spinal cord stimulation uses electrodes placed within the spinal cord to also deliver a pulse of electricity.
Surgical options to treat chronic pain may be recommended in cases when pain is caused by back problems or musculoskeletal injuries. Surgeries performed on the back include discectomy (removing the entire disc), laminectomy (removing a fragment of a disc), rhizotomy (cutting a nerve close to the spinal cord), and cordotomy (severing bundles of nerves within the spinal cord).
If these treatment options do not work for you, there are others. Chronic pain is a serious problem that should be treated. Exercise also plays an important role in helping people manage chronic pain because it can help alleviate stress that contributes to pain. In addition, physical therapy and rehabilitation have shown to increase function, as has biofeedback and chiropractic spinal manipulation. For more information about managing chronic pain, talk with your doctor at North Fulton Hospital’s Pain and Spine Center or call 770-751-2600 for a free referral to a physician.