We would be hard-pressed to find a single soul who enjoys being in pain. Pain is something we altogether avoid, be it physical pain or emotional pain. Any way you slice it, pain is not something we would ever seek out. However, it is a sad fact that many Americans experience pain on a daily basis, whether from an injury, a medical procedure, or a chronic health condition. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, approximately 25 million Americans experience daily pain.
How we choose to manage pain when we encounter it has become a serious topic of debate in light of the opioid crisis of the last decade. Now that we are much better informed about the highly addictive properties of prescription pain relievers, we are able to approach the subject of pain management wisely.
What Is Pain?
Merriam-Webster’s pain definition states that pain is a localized or generalized bodily sensation or complex of sensations that causes mild to severe physical discomfort and emotional distress and typically results from bodily disorder such as injury or disease. Pain originates at a site in or on the body that sends pain signals through the nervous system to the brain.
We process pain in various ways, including through the sympathetic nervous system, the neuro-endocrine system, and even our emotions. When we experience an injury or other pain source, the pain receptors are stimulated and release chemicals. The chemicals then travel through the spinal cord to the brain where the pain message is processed before quickly sending the pain message back to the stimulus site.
What Is Acute Pain? What is Chronic Pain? And What’s the Difference?
The terms “chronic pain” and “acute pain” refer to the nature of the pain event. Chronic pain refers to pain that has persisted for more than three months, continuing on when it should not. Acute pain is defined as transient pain that is associated with a specific accident or injury and resolves in a fairly predictable timeframe. The methods used by health providers to mitigate pain are determined primarily by whether the pain is acute or chronic.
Generally, acute pain is managed at the time of the injury, when a doctor applies medical interventions and usually prescribes short-term analgesics to alleviate pain during the first few days of healing. Long-term, or chronic, pain management is more challenging to treat. A physician has to assess each patient separately—the medical condition that is causing the person’s chronic pain, the intensity of the pain and their pain threshold, and whether they have a history of substance use disorder—before deciding on an ongoing pain treatment plan.
Safe Pain Management Techniques
When prescribing pain medication for an acute injury a doctor understands that the medication will only be taken for a few days. Decisions about which medications to provide are guided by how much a patient can tolerate based on gender, weight, and age, and whether there is any history of allergic reaction or other adverse effects in past usage.
For managing chronic pain, physicians are much more cautious now when prescribing opioids for a prolonged period. Doctors walk a fine line when assessing risk and reward, as their goal is to improve the quality of someone’s life while minimizing risks. If a chronic pain patient is in substance recovery, the course of treatment will be tailored accordingly. Instead of opioids, chronic pain management might involve a combination of non-narcotic pain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, coupled with acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, and physical therapy.
As for acute pain, generally physicians are also taking a more cautious approach for managing transient pain. Instead of prescribing pain medications such as an opioid following a sports injury or oral surgery, they may instead favor over-the-counter analgesics combined with physical therapy as an alternative to drugs. Whether for chronic or acute pain, there are legitimate options available for safely managing these medical conditions while reducing the risks associated with prescription pain relievers.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.