Pain is part of the body's warning system and is caused by the transmission of electrical signals through nerves, the spinal column and into the brain.
People experience different kinds of pain, caused by distinct mechanisms in the nervous system. The level of pain we feel depends on its cause, the seriousness of any injury or illness and our personal tolerance levels to pain.
Headache is one of the most common relatively minor pains, suffered by 96 per
cent of us at some time in our lives. Back pain is another common complaint while others include toothache, sporting injuries such as muscle pulls, strains and bruising, arthritic pain and period pain.
Pain can leave you feeling drained, miserable and tired. It can also cause loss of concentration and loss of emotional control. Effective pain control is extremely important in the daily lives of many people.
Most pain can be effectively controlled by pain relief treatments. These range from over the counter
remedies to more powerful, prescription only pain killers such as morphine.
Relatively minor pains, such as headaches, can normally controlled by an over-the-counter pain reliever and a pharmacist will be able to advise on options. If pain is severe or persistent you should always consult your doctor.
How do pain killers work?
Paracetamol is one of the most frequently taken products for mild and moderate pain. It is thought that it works throughout the body and in the brain and that the temperature lowering effects known
to be produced by prostaglandin inhibition in the brain are responsible for reducing pain in the body.
Aspirin, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, was discovered over 100 years ago and current research is still unravelling new uses. It works by blocking prostaglandins that are produced in inflamed or injured tissues and cause the sensation of pain. It also acts centrally: the salicylate and acetate parts of aspirin's chemical structure (aspirin is acetyl salicylic acid) cross separately into the brain and spinal cord. There they act on
prostaglandins in sites in the central nervous system known to be involved in both the perception and transmission of pain.
Ibuprofen is an analgesic, anti-pyretic (fever-reducing) and anti-inflammatory (reduces swelling and inflammation). It also acts by reducing the levels of prostaglandins in the body. It is gentler on the stomach than aspirin, and is as well tolerated as paracetamol. Always ask your pharmacist for advice, but people who should be especially cautious about taking this pain reliever are: -
- The elderly
- Those suffering from asthma
- Individuals who have suffered from gastric ulcers or gastric bleeds in the past
- Those with bleeding disorders
- Those who suffer from allergies
There are also a range of complementary therapies which are used by some people to combat pain, including acupuncture, aromatherapy, herbalism, homeopathy and hypnotherapy.
Pain can often be avoided by taking sensible precautions.
Headache: Easing stress levels, particularly at work, can
help to avoid tension headache. Taking screen breaks if working at a computer is important.
Back pain: Good posture can help in avoiding back pain, and massage and relaxation therapy can help with pain relief as well as relieving stress.
Muscular pain: To avoid minor muscle or sporting injuries, it is important to warm up properly before taking exercise. Should this kind of injury occur, a pain relieving ointment or gel may be more effective than an oral treatment.