The best ways to control pain

Pain comes in all shapes and sizes, with a corresponding variety of treatments. The trick is finding the right antidote to your problem, says Caroline White

Pain can have a devastating effect on our lives: it is the main symptom in eight out of 10 medical consultations and an estimated 7 per cent of the UK population suffers from chronic pain.

However, pain is also personal: we all suffer it, but none of us experiences it in the same way. How we feel it depends on a complex cocktail of upbringing and experience, state of mind, gender and genes. The same is true of our responses to treatment.

There are three different types of pain. Somatic pain is activated by pain receptors in the skin or deep tissues, and is usually confined to a particular area. Visceral pain comes from pressure deep inside the body, such as internal bruising, abnormal growths, or even trapped wind. Often spread over a wide area of the body, it can be felt in sites far from the original problem. This is known as referred pain. Finally, neuropathic pain occurs when nerves are damaged, inflamed, or trapped. Frequently burning and searing in quality, it is difficult to treat with standard painkillers. It is further characterised by how long it lasts. Acute pain comes on suddenly, lasting from seconds to weeks. Chronic pain can be constant or recurrent and lasts for months or years.

Pain is usually treated with analgesics, a term for pain-relievers or painkillers, many of which can be bought over the counter. Soluble preparations are absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream than tablets, which makes them ideally suited for the treatment of migraines. The most popular analgesics are: paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen (which are both anti-inflammatories) and codeine.

Paracetamol works well for acute pain and fever. Be careful not to exceed the recommended dose or take several preparations containing the drug – many cold and flu remedies contain paracetamol. High doses can damage the liver.

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