Managing pain can be tough, whether you’re one of the 100 million Americans with chronic pain, or only suffer from the occasional backache or headache. September is National Pain Awareness Month, the perfect time to make sure you’re managing your pain the best way possible.
While many people can manage pain on their own, or can be helped by a primary care physician, those with unrelenting, challenging pain should consider seeing a pain medicine specialist.
“One of the biggest mistakes patients make is not visiting a pain medicine specialist such as a physician anesthesiologist when they experience persistent, complex pain,” says Dr. Richard Rosenquist, chair of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Committee on Pain Medicine and chairman of the Department of Pain Management in the Anesthesiology Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “Physician anesthesiologists and other pain medicine specialists can fully assess a patient’s pain and prescribe a treatment plan. This may incorporate medications, injections that can control pain for up to a year, spinal cord stimulation, physical and psychological therapies and alternative therapies, such as acupuncture.”
The ASA and its physician anesthesiologist members note these five mistakes patients in pain often make:
1. Taking medication incorrectly. Whether you’re taking opioids (narcotics) for chronic pain or an over-the-counter pain remedy such as ibuprofen for a sore back, don’t take more than prescribed or recommended by the manufacturer. With prescription pain medication, taking more than directed can lead to addiction or even accidental overdose. It’s critical to follow your physician’s instructions carefully. If you’re still in pain after taking the prescribed dose, contact your physician to discuss other pain relief options.
2. Choosing the wrong medication. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help you manage the pain of a sprained ankle or twisted knee without seeing a doctor. But choosing the right pain relief medication can depend on your health history. If you have liver problems or consume three or more alcoholic drinks a night, avoid acetaminophen which can cause liver damage. And anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as ibuprofen and naproxen can make high blood pressure and kidney disease worse, so ask your physician or a pharmacist for an alternative recommendation.
3. Demanding an X-ray. Studies show tests such as X-rays and MRIs do not do a good job of pinpointing the cause of pain. For example, you might have pain, but nothing shows up on the image. And vice versa – sometimes things show up on X-rays that aren’t causing problems or pain. That’s why it’s so important to see a physician who can assess your symptoms and order the most effective tests when necessary.
4. Not thinking outside the pill box. Many treatments that don’t involve taking medication help people in pain find relief. For example, spinal cord stimulation uses electrical signals to short circuit pain in the lower back and legs. Other alternative treatments that may help include injections, acupuncture, massage, meditation and physical therapy.
5. Neglecting your overall health. Studies show people who smoke are more likely to have chronic pain, so if you smoke get the help you need to quit. Also, be sure to eat healthy. Studies show following an anti-inflammatory diet of wholesome, unprocessed foods (vegetables and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild salmon and walnuts) may help reduce pain. The healthier you are, the better you’ll feel and the less pain you’ll have.