Listen to Your Body
Health conditions affect us in different ways, with symptoms and severity often varying quite a bit from person to person. Pain is no exception—it’s an elusive, often frustrating issue that takes many forms and can affect almost any body part. Understanding pain and how to treat it is a good first step.
for severe pain …
Sudden, serious headache: Seek immediate care if you get a headache that is the worst you’ve ever had, or it’s accompanied by fever, vomiting, stiffness, seizures, a rash, visual disturbances, trouble speaking or weakness. These symptoms may signal a stroke or an infection like meningitis. (Also seek medical care after any headinjury; concussion and swelling of the brain can be life-threatening.)
Severe or persistent abdominal pain: If abdominal pain is very severe, persists, or is accompanied by symptoms like fever, abdominal tenderness or blood in the stool, it may be a sign of appendicitis, diverticulitis, pancreatitis or inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis). Seek immediate medical care.
*Always get medical help to rule out major problems.
Source: Harvard Medical School
What is my pain telling me?
Dr. Ramis Gheith, medical director for pain care at SSM Health DePaul Hospital, says pain should not be seen as just a problem. “It really is a kind of protective mechanism,” he explains. “It’s your body’s way of telling you there is an issue like injury or infection that needs attention.” He adds that uncomfortable symptoms like tenderness, redness, swelling and warmth can be signs the body is healing itself. Some types of pain may signal a serious disorder. Gheith says the only way to know if you need medical attention is to see a health care professional, especially if the problem is sudden and/or severe.
Acute vs. chronic pain
Neurologist Dr. Sita Kedia, chief medical officer at PALM Health, says it generally depends on how long the pain lasts, and both can be caused by the same injury or condition. Acute pain can last for seconds or weeks and may happen after an injury like a broken bone or ankle sprain. Once it continues for more than 3 months, it’s considered chronic.
My head hurts!
Gheith says to think of headaches on a spectrum based on their frequency and severity. “Migraines can be more predictable because they may be triggered by things like food, alcohol or stress,” he says. “Tension headaches usually are caused by stress, causing muscles and soft tissues to pull on structures at the base of the skull.”
Migraines often last longer than tension headaches and cause more severe, recurring, throbbing or pulsating pain along with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. According to Kedia, frequency can range from once or twice a year to daily. Common headaches usually are more responsive to over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
“Migraine treatment should be multidisciplinary and use a mind-body-spirit approach,” Kedia says. “It should eliminate risk factors and include lifestyle changes like increasing exercise and water intake; getting better sleep; eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet; managing stress through meditation; and receiving biofeedback therapy and health coaching. Specific nutraceuticals like magnesium and CoEnzyme Q10 may be helpful as well.” For any headache problem, treatment depends on the patient’s age, lifestyle and the severity and frequency of pain, she says.
Natural pain relief
1. Cold and heat. Cooling packs and heat wraps are time-honored methods. You also can ask a chiropractor or physical therapist for their versions of these treatments, which can penetrate deeper into tissues.
2. Exercise. Physical activity can interrupt the cycle of pain and reduced mobility caused by certain conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia, especially gentle aerobic exercises like walking, swimming and cycling.
3. Physical and occupational therapy. A physical therapist can guide you through strength and mobility exercises, and an occupational therapist can help you perform daily activities without worsening your pain.
4. Mind-body techniques. Meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises can help mitigate the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, which curbs muscle tension and pain.
5. Yoga and tai chi. Learn breath control, meditation and gentle movements to stretch and strengthen muscles. They may help manage pain caused by conditions like headaches and injury.
6. Biofeedback. Learn relaxation and proper breathing with the help of a biofeedback machine, which transforms data on body functions like heart rate and blood pressure into visual cues. Modifying the visualizations can give you some control over your body’s pain responses.
7. Music therapy. It may help relieve pain during and after surgery and childbirth. Classical music has been proven to work especially well.
8. Therapeutic massage. Works tension out of your muscles and joints and brings relief by introducing a competing sensation that overrides pain signals
9. Nutraceuticals. Nutritional supplements like curcumin, omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium can help with migraines.
10. Pain coping skills. Techniques taught by a specialized coach or counselor
11. Cryotherapy. Whole-body cooling therapy that decreases inflammation and increases endorphins
12. Acupuncture. Helpful for headaches, arthritis, and back, neck, or knee pain
13. Infrared sauna. Helps improve circulation and relaxes muscles
Sources: Harvard Medical School, Dr. Sita Kedia