Pain: What is it and how should you treat it?

Doctor consulting with male patient

We’ve all experienced pain before. From stubbing our toes to major accidents, there are two main types of pain: acute and chronic. Knowing the type of pain that you are experiencing is important when it comes to treating it.

Acute pain
This type of pain is generally in response to something: a cut, broken bone, kidney stone, surgery or dental procedure. Sometimes, it has no obvious cause, like with migraine headaches.

Acute pain can come on fast and go away in a few days or weeks. It can be mild and easily tolerated, completely disabling or somewhere in between. It can be addressed by a variety of possible treatments, including rest, ice, physical therapy and different types of non-opioid medications.

Chronic pain
This type of pain lasts beyond the expected healing time for an acute event, usually for more than three months. A range of conditions can cause chronic pain, such as arthritis and other inflammatory illnesses.

For chronic pain, non-opioid or non-pharmaceutical therapies and even cultural or spiritual practices can provide relief in some cases.

Using opioids to manage pain
Regardless of the type of pain, you’re trying to manage, opioids – like codeine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, morphine, tramadol and oxycodone – can be an effective option when used appropriately. But they must be used cautiously and carefully.

If you’re prescribed opioids, your health-care professional should prescribe the lowest dose and lowest strength possible. If you’re being treated outside of a hospital setting, such as by your family doctor, nurse practitioner or dentist, your prescription should be for three days or less in most cases.

More severe acute pain, such as from major surgery, may require a longer course of opioids, but usually not more than seven days. Your health-care professional should monitor your pain and help you stop taking opioids when your pain is reduced.

“One of the questions to ask is ‘tell me how I will get off this medication when the time comes, and when do you think that time will be?’” says Dr. Irfan Dhalla, a recognized authority on opioid-related issues.

It’s important for your health-care professional to ask you about your pain, health, ability to function at work and at home, and any other issues that may be affecting your health.


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