Pain Management Frequently Asked Questions
When you feel discomfort across any body part, you’re feeling pain. This concept is a subjective one because everyone has a different tolerance for pain. A cut on the finger could be a bother for one person, whereas it’s a stinging sensation over many hours for other individuals. Pain is generally divided into two categories, including chronic and acute types.
A chronic pain tends to last over several days, weeks or years. This pain, however, usually remains as a mild to moderate feeling. In contrast, an acute pain is sharp and isolated. It may be extremely painful, but it only lasts a short time. In the end, you are the only person that can really describe your pain effectively to another person.
How Does Cancer Contribute to Pain?
Cancer is a widespread disease that can affect nearly any part of the body. You might know people who seem perfectly healthy, but they’re currently fighting a cancer diagnosis. These individuals may be in mild, moderate or severe pain because cancer affects everyone differently. A tumor might grow large and press against organs, for example. Nerve and blood vessel pain is common because of multiple cancerous tumors growing throughout the body. When a patient has metastasized, cancer can even clog blood vessels. In addition, pain levels are often defined by the cancer’s stage. A terminal patient in stage 4 breast cancer will usually be in more pain than a stage 1 patient.
Your pain doesn’t have to be directly caused by the cancer itself either. Strong treatments, from biopsies to chemotherapy, create painful conditions for your body as it heals afterward. In these cases, your pain relief might be a slow process because the body is trying to fight the cancer and recover from a stressful surgery simultaneously. Pain can also be related to your psychological health. Worries over the disease and other concerns can easily create headaches and body aches.
What Are Patients’ Options to Manage Daily Pain?
Pain can be a debilitating feeling that affects both your mind and body. Finding the root cause of the pain is the smartest way to combat it. Initially, your doctor will evaluate the painful area using basic physical cues. You might require a biopsy where part or all of the tumor is removed. Although you’ll have pain after the surgery, you should feel relief in the area because the accumulation is no longer taking up space in your body.
Doctors use other treatments to reduce pain too, such as radiation therapy. However, there are times when treating the pain symptoms is necessary. You could receive pain medication and alternative relief options. Mental imagery and relaxation techniques are often taught for moderate pain relief.
What Is My Diagnosis?
These questions can help you get answers regarding the nature and cause of your pain:
- Have you been able to determine the source of my pain?
- If so, what is it, and what is the formal diagnosis? (Ask your doctor to write it down if it’s hard to remember!)
- How did you reach this diagnosis?
- Do you need to confirm the diagnosis with tests?
- Do I or you need a second opinion?
- Is there any reason this may have occurred? Is it hereditary, or connected to other health issues?
- What is the prognosis for this diagnosis?
Because some patients may not have a direct cause for their worst pain, a formal diagnosis is not always possible. Even if you don’t receive a diagnosis, though, there are still steps to take and questions you can ask to find some level of pain relief.
What Are My Treatment Options?
These questions can be tailored, so they’re applicable whether you are able to get a formal diagnosis or not:
- What are my treatment options?
- Which treatment plan works best, for whom, and why?
- How effective are the treatments for reducing my pain?
- What, if any, medications are recommended?
- Are there any side effects or risks to the recommended medications or treatments?
- How long do medications or treatment options take to work?
- Are there other options if one treatment fails to work or if I have an allergic reaction?
- Which, if any, of these treatments and medications are covered by my insurance? What are the relative costs, and are there trials or assistance programs I may be eligible for?
- Do you have a relationship with any of the drug manufacturers that make the medications we just discussed?
Symptoms you shouldn’t ignore
While neck and back pain are common, some symptoms call for prompt attention. If you have back pain that has lasted longer than three months, or any of these other symptoms, call your doctor immediately:
- Pain caused by a serious injury
- Pain that travels down one or both legs
- Pain that worsens when you sneeze or cough, or pain that wakes you up at night
- Pain in your abdomen or changes in your bowel or bladder habits
- Fever, weight loss or swelling or weakness
Why does RA hurt?
The inflammation from RA causes painful swelling. Nodules can form at pressure points, such as your elbows. These can occur almost anywhere on your body. These nodules can become tender and painful.
What are my medical options for managing pain?
Your doctor will go over several strategies for managing your pain. These include prescription and over-the-counter drugs as well as other medical treatments. All of these medications have their own set of side effects. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits.
You likely already have nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, in your medicine cabinet. These drugs include common over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). These medications are good for relieving pain and inflammation.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may also be used to relieve pain, but it will not help with inflammation. It can be used alone or in combination with NSAIDs.
DMARDs and biologics
Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) work by reducing the inflammation that can cause pain. These drugs actually slow the progression of RA and can prevent permanent damage. Biologic drugs specifically target the cells of the immune system and pro-inflammatory molecules involved in inflammation.
Learn more: Rheumatoid arthritis DMARDs list »
Corticosteroids can be injected directly into the joint. They can relieve pain and inflammation for weeks at a time. Trigger point injections involve injecting a numbing medication into your muscle. They may help with RA-related muscle pain.
Your doctor may refer you to practitioners who specialize in alternative treatment options. Alternative treatments include massage, acupuncture, or topical electrical nerve stimulation. Ask your doctor about any risks involved in alternative treatments. Also ask about the results you might expect from treatment.
How should I exercise?
You likely know that overdoing any activity can make joints tender and sore. However, it may be a surprise to learn that sitting or lying still for long periods of time can make joints even more stiff and painful. Ask your doctor about what types of exercise are safe for you. Also ask them which forms of fitness would be most effective for your RA.
In general, low-impact or no-impact exercises are good choices for strengthening muscles and loosening joints. Water aerobics and swimming are good options. Look up if there are exercises classes in your area. If not, ask your doctor how you can exercise at home. Gentle stretching may also aid in pain relief. As a bonus, you may even lose some weight. Weight loss could make a big difference in the amount of stress on your joints and could help ease your pain.