have pain, thereís nothing you want more than relief ó
right now. For many people, that means reaching for the bottle
of pain relievers in the medicine cabinet.
treating pain yourself, however, you should understand where
the pain is coming from. Some sources of pain are easier to
decipher: You have a tension headache after a long day at your
computer, or back pain after an afternoon of raking the yard
or joint pain from arthritis. Other sources of pain are not as
evident, especially when youíre experiencing the pain for
the first time, such as knee or hip pain when you are out for
a walk, or when the pain lasts longer than usual, such as a
stiff neck or lower back pain that doesnít subside.
cases, consult your health care provider to rule out or treat
a possibly serious condition. For many types of acute pain,
however, a number of self-care options can help. In addition
to over-the-counter pain relievers, several simple lifestyle
approaches also can be effective.
find a large selection of pain relievers at your local store.
These medications ó also called analgesics ó control pain
by interfering with the way pain messages are developed,
transmitted or interpreted. Over-the-counter pain medications
can be effective at relieving many types of mild to moderate
pain. Some pain medications also will reduce the swelling and
redness of inflammation.
are two types of pain relievers:
bottle of pain-relieving pills in your medicine cabinet likely
contains aspirin, ibuprofen (e.g., Advil and Motrin IB) or
naproxen sodium (e.g., Aleve). These medications are most
effective for mild to moderate pain thatís accompanied by
swelling and inflammation, such as arthritis, sprains and
strains. However, these types of medications can have serious
side effects, including nausea, stomach pain, or stomach
bleeding and ulcers. Large doses also can lead to kidney
problems and high blood pressure. These risks are higher for
older people, especially those over 75. Acetaminophen (e.g.,
Tylenol) is another commonly used pain reliever. Itís
frequently recommended for mild to moderate pain, such as for
headaches, menstrual cramps, and cold and flu aches. However,
acetaminophen cannot relieve inflammation, such as whatís
associated with muscle aches and osteoarthritis. When taken as
recommended, acetaminophen has long been believed to have a
low risk of side effects. Taking higher doses, however, brings
an increased risk of liver or kidney damage. This risk is
higher for individuals who have existing liver disease or
long-term alcohol use. Recent research suggests the
recommended dose for long-term acetaminophen use should be
lowered from 4 to 2 grams a day for individuals in these
populations due to the risk of liver problems.
Topical pain relievers
analgesics are creams, gels, sprays and patches that are
applied to the skin at the area where you feel pain, such as
on painful joints or strained muscles. Topical pain relievers,
such as diclofenac (e.g., Voltaren and Solaraze) and
salicylates (e.g., Bengay and Icy Hot) can reduce mild to
moderate pain without serious side effects, in part because
they are applied locally instead of being circulated through
the body. They often are recommended for older people who have
a greater risk of side effects from oral pain relievers.
HEAT AND COLD
relief can be a frozen bag of peas or a hot bath. This is
because applying heat and cold often can ease joint pain, back
strains, neck pain and other types of pain.
how these methods work:
numbs pain by causing blood vessels to constrict, which
reduces swelling. Thatís why, when you experience an injury
ó whether itís a bee sting or a sprained ankle ó icing
is often a good first choice. You can use an ice pack or a bag
of frozen vegetables, or you can submerge the affected area in
a container of ice water.
Heat, on the other hand, is a muscle relaxer. Heat loosens
tense muscles, which relieves pain. Heat also increases blood
flow to an injury, which promotes healing. Sources of heat can
be a heating pad or a warm bath.
find that cold or heat provides more relief. Or you can
alternate the two, ending with the cold treatment.
applying heat or cold often doesnít completely resolve pain.
Itís more likely to lessen its severity and reduce
inflammation. But, in many cases, a heating pad or ice pack
can be applied in addition to other pain treatments, such as
analgesics, to increase the chances of relief.