If you are reading this article, you are probably concerned, either for yourself or a loved one, about the impact that chronic or acute pain has. Pain can have a life-changing effect on your way of life. Pain can affect your sleep, appetite, energy levels, and ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Before we look at pain management, we should understand the different types of pain. Pain is personal; we all feel it and describe it differently. But some often-used words help to explain the nature of the pain we are experiencing.

Different types of pain

Doctors use the words Acute and Chronic to distinguish between short and long-term pain,

ACUTE PAIN starts suddenly, usually due to a traumatic experience, e.g., an accident or even a bee sting. Acute pains typically fade as the body heals.

CHRONIC PAIN describes long-lasting pain (possibly worsening) that may continue for months or even years. An example of chronic pain is ‘arthritis.’

ACUTE and CHRONIC describe the duration of the pain. To illustrate the FEELING of pain, we use sharp, dull, achy, or throbbing words. SEVERITY is the most challenging part of the pain to describe. We all have different tolerance to pain. A pain that may seem moderate to one person is unbearable to another. Some practitioners ask patients to express their pain numerically, where zero = no pain and ten=unbearable. So, your healthcare provider can assess whether your pain level increases or decreases from one visit to the next. Or if a particular course of action, treatment, or medication has the desired effect.

Is it possible to manage pain?

It is not always possible to remove pain. But there is a comprehensive range of medicines and therapies to reduce pain, whether acute or chronic, at least to levels that enable sufferers to continue in their usual activities.

There are three primary responses to the need for pain

A. Surgery (including dental surgery), either planned or made necessary by accidental injury. Surgery may correct the cause of pain but will create acute pain needing management. Your treatment may include rehabilitation and physical or occupational therapy to help you return to normal activities.

i. Prescription medicines are typically prescribed only for acute (short-term conditions), e.g., following surgery. The opioid family of drugs is the most familiar, but many others have specific applications. Muscle relaxants and steroids can decrease the causes of pain. An anesthetic may block pain. Antidepressants and anxiety medicines help sufferers cope with pain.

ii. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines such as aspirin and ibuprofen, cough medicines, antiseptics, and medicated plasters are readily available to ease pain or to aid recovery. If the underlying symptoms remain after three, talk to your healthcare provider.

C. Massage therapy, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation can alleviate pain without surgery or medicines.

Are there alternatives to medication?

Take advantage of devices that enable you to move more freely and decrease pain. These may be as simple as a cane, crutch (es), or walker. Joints such as knees, ankles, wrists, and elbows may need extra support. Elastic sleeves or surgical braces can lessen the strain on recovering muscle fiber and reduce the risk of painful uncontrolled movement. Often, these aids may be prescribed or covered by your health insurance for acute or chronic conditions.

Any physical or mental activity that diverts your attention from your pain will lessen its impact.

Popular non-physical distractive activities include

  • Meditation
  • Music
  • Self-hypnosis
  • Aromatherapy

Talk to your doctor, healthcare provider, or pharmacist before choosing a particular course of action to check it is safe and likely effective for you.

Does health insurance cover pain management?

ACA-compliant plans include prescribed pain management care. Not all plans include non-medical therapies. Check with your insurance advisor or plan provider about the extent of your coverage. Their formulary (list of approved medications) includes those prescribed for your condition.

Open enrollment, typically in the fall of each year, is your opportunity to review your circumstances, particularly if you expect or suffer from a chronic medical condition.

Medicare Part A/Part B or Part C Advantage with Drugs coverage or Medicare Part D drugs coverage includes prescribed pain management care when it is part of a medical procedure in your plan. The extent of Medicare coverage varies from state to state. Check with your state health insurance exchange or your insurance advisor.

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