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Jul 20th, 2013
About This Condition
Pain is a sensation that is transmitted from an area of tissue damage or stress along the sensory nerves to the brain. The brain interprets the information as the sensation of pain.
Substances that decrease pain either interfere with the ability of nerves to conduct messages, or alter the brain’s capacity to receive sensations.
Pain may be a symptom of an underlying pathological condition, such as inflammation. It may also be due to other causes, such as bruising, infection, burns, headaches, and sprains and strains. Use caution when treating pain without understanding its cause—this may delay diagnosis of conditions that could continue to worsen without medical attention.
Symptoms of pain include discomfort that is often worsened by movement or pressure and may be associated with irritability, problems sleeping, and fatigue. People with pain may have uncomfortable sensations described as burning, sharp, stabbing, aching, throbbing, tingling, shooting, dull, heavy, and tight.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
Body weight may be related to pain tolerance. One study indicated women who are more than 30% above the ideal weight for their age experience pain more quickly and more intensely than do women of ideal weight.1 No research has investigated the effect of weight loss on pain tolerance.
Exercise increases pain tolerance in some situations,2, 3 in part because exercise may raise levels of naturally occurring painkillers (endorphins and enkephalins).4 Many types of chronic pain are helped by exercise,5, 6, 7 though some types of physical activity may aggravate certain painful conditions.8 People who want to initiate an exercise program for increasing pain tolerance should first consult a qualified health professional.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a form of electrical physical therapy that has been used in the treatment of pain since the early 1970s. Pads are placed on the skin and a mild electrical current is sent through to block pain sensations. Many TENS units are small, portable, and may be hidden under clothing. A review of the first ten years of research on TENS described success rates in treating chronic pain varying from 12.5% to 92% after one year of treatment.9 Variations in success rates were attributed to differences in the type of pain the TENS was treating. More current research identifies specific conditions that consistently respond well to TENS therapy:10, 11rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, low back pain, phantom limb pain, and post-herpetic nerve pain (shingles). Pain caused by pinched nerves in the spine responds poorly to TENS therapy. While a small number of controlled trials have reported no benefit,12, 13 most evidence suggests TENS is an effective form of therapy for many types of pain.14, 15, 16
Relaxation exercises may decrease the perception of pain. Pain increases as anxiety increases; using methods to decrease anxiety may help reduce pain.17 In one controlled hospital study, people who were taught mind-body relaxation techniques reported less pain, less difficulty sleeping, and fewer symptoms of depression or anxiety than did people who were not taught the techniques.18
Acupuncture has been shown to decrease pain by acting on the enkephalin-based, pain-killing pathways.19 In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stated that acupuncture is useful for muscular, skeletal, and generalized pain, as well as for anesthesia and post-operative pain. The NIH statement was based on a critical review of over 67 controlled trials of acupuncture for pain control.
Practitioners of manipulation report that it often produces immediate pain relief either in the area manipulated or elsewhere.20 Controlled trials have found that people given spinal manipulation may experience reduction in pain sensitivity of the skin in related areas,21, 22 a reduction in joint and muscle tenderness in the area manipulated,23 and a decrease in elbow tenderness when the neck was manipulated.24 One study showed no effect of lower spine manipulation on sensitivity to deep pressure over low back muscles and ligaments.25 Some researchers have speculated that joint manipulation affects pain by enhancing the effects of endorphins. However, only one26 of three27, 28 controlled studies has shown an effect of manipulation on endorphin levels.
Hypnosis has been shown to significantly reduce pain associated with office surgical procedures that are performed while the patient is conscious (i.e., without general anesthesia).29 People undergoing office surgical procedures received standard care, structured attention or self-hypnotic relaxation in one study. Those using self-hypnosis had no increases in pain during the procedures, compared to those in the other groups. Hypnosis also appeared to stabilize bleeding, decrease the requirement for narcotic pain drugs during the procedure, and shorten procedure time.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.