Help & Advice

What is pain?

Pain is a natural response that acts as a warning to indicate harm or potential harm to our bodies and that something needs to be done about it. In other words, pain is the body’s mechanism of self-preservation. Often the cause of pain is obvious, a broken leg, or a bruise. But there are times when the source of pain is unseen, for example a slipped disc. Occasionally it is very difficult to find the exact cause of a person’s pain.

  • Short-term pain is called Acute Pain e.g. a sprained wrist.
  • Long-term pain is called Persistent or Chronic Pain and would include back problems or arthritis.
  • Pain that comes and goes is called Recurrent or Intermittent Pain e.g. toothache.

Persistent pain often serves no useful purpose. The messages from the warning system linked to long-term conditions like arthritis or back pain are not needed - just annoying. Over time, it may affect what we can do, our ability to work, our sleep patterns. It can have a strong negative effect on our family and friends too.
Long-term pain can also have an effect on our emotional state. This means how we are feeling has an effect on our pain. If we feel angry, depressed or anxious, our pain will be worse.
The opposite is also true. If we are feeling positive and happy, our pain can seem to be less and we are able to cope much better.
Chronic pain is very common and affects one in five of the UK population. It is the most frequent cause of a GP appointment and is responsible for more lost days of work than any other condition.

How is pain treated?

Pain affects everyone differently and so each person should be treated according to their own needs. This is why it is important that your doctor knows as much about your condition as possible in order to be able to recommend the most appropriate treatment. This might include:

  • Medications, both prescription and over the counter
  • Exercise and/or stretching plans such as yoga or pilates
  • Dietary or nutritional advice
  • Changes to behavioural patterns
  • Use of ice pads or warming pads
  • Postural instructions
  • Use of TENS machines
  • Physical treatments such as; Physiotherapy, Acupuncture, Osteopathy

It may be necessary for you to try a number of strategies before you decide what works best for you. Bear in mind that your experience of pain is as unique as you are. Hence, what works for others, might not necessarily work for you.

What medicines are used to treat Chronic Pain?

The medicines that your doctor uses to treat long-term pain are often different to those used for acute painful incidents.
Traditional painkillers are often not as effective and other methods of treatment are usually needed, such as stronger analgesics.
The doctor may prescribe opioid type painkillers such as codeine or dihydrocodeine together with an anti-inflammatory like naproxen or diclofenac. It may sometimes be better to use a nerve stabilising medicine such as amitriptyline, gabapentin or pregabalin.
When taking your medication it is best to follow the simple guidelines below:

  • Take your medication regularly and preferably at the same times each day
  • Only vary your medication if you are having a particularly bad day (flare up).
  • You should try to keep some medication in reserve for bad days, by not taking the maximum dose of all your medications all the time. You should plan this with your doctor or pharmacist.

Remember that it is often not possible to take away pain completely. Focusing on realistic goals of activities you want to do, and using medication to help achieve these is often a more helpful way to manage your condition.