Looking Up | The Ultimate Guide to Pain Management

The Best Pain Management Strategy for Your Type of Pain

The Clearing Team
The Clearing Team

People who are in pain tend to have one thing in common: they want treatment options, and fast. 

But “pain management” can take many different forms. The best treatment for you will depend a lot on what type of pain you are experiencing. Your personal health history, your risk factors for other complications and your tolerance for certain medications all play a role in your pain management options. 

Having precise language to describe the kind of pain you are experiencing can also help you make decisions with your doctor about your treatment. Being able to distinguish  between chronic pain, acute pain and other types of pain is a good starting point for figuring out the treatment you need. 

We’ll take a look at the different terms that doctors use to describe pain, health conditions associated with each type, and pain management strategies. 

In this ultimate guide to pain management, we’ll cover the following types of pain: 

  • Acute Pain 
  • Chronic Pain 
  • Neuropathic Pain 
  • Radicular Pain
  • Referred Pain
  • Visceral Pain

Acute Pain 

Acute pain is what you feel when you get a burn, a bruise, or a bone fracture. Your body gets injured, and nerve receptors send that information to your brain. Acute pain is a self-preservation instinct: your brain records the injury and gives the rest of your body signals to try to preserve the part of you that’s hurt and protect yourself from further injury.  

Acute pain may feel like a sharp stabbing or burning sensation at the area where you are hurt. It can also take the form of an ache or can become numb. The injured area may feel warm to the touch if the injury occurred beneath your skin. Dental work, broken bones, sore muscles, labor and childbirth and surgery are common sources of acute pain. 

How to treat it

Acute pain typically subsides once the cause has been found and treated. Your body starts to heal, and the pain signals eventually stop. 

In the meantime, you can take an over-the-counter or prescription-strength pain medication, depending on what your doctor recommends. Over-the-counter NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil) are a short-term solution for acute pain. Home remedies like a cold compress and icing the affected area can provide relief, too. 

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is caused by pain signals that linger far beyond an initial injury. Official definitions of chronic pain differ, but it is generally accepted to mean pain that lasts for three months or more and that exceeds what would be considered “normal healing time.” 

Over 11 percent of US adults say that they live with pain every day. Chronic pain may feel intense and throbbing, or it can be a more dull and persistent sensation. Chronic pain can also take the form of numbness or tingling. The severity of the pain can ebb and flow. It isn’t unusual for chronic pain to reduce your range of motion as well. 

Arthritis, disc disease, nerve pain, cancer, carpal tunnel syndrome and fibromyalgia are just a few of the conditions that are associated with chronic pain. You can also develop chronic pain from a torn joint or tissue or a broken bone that doesn’t heal properly. 

Surgical scarring and complications can lead to chronic pain. Chronic pain symptoms can develop into chronic pain syndrome, which occurs when learned pain behaviors and mental health conditions like depression become part of the chronic pain experience. The psychological aspects of chronic pain syndrome can make treatment and recovery more complicated.    

How to treat it

Chronic pain treatment may require a team of pain management specialists. Temporary treatments can include pain relief medication, but a more long-term treatment plan will typically involve other strategies, too. Physical therapy, mental health services, an anti-inflammatory diet, nutritional supplements, and solutions based in lifestyle medicine can all play a part in taking your life back from chronic pain.

Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain develops due to damage to your nerves or nervous system. This type of pain can be acute or chronic, depending on the cause and how long you experience it. The initial cause of neuropathic pain can be a traumatic injury, though it can also be connected to an underlying condition, which can make treating it more complicated.  

Neuropathic pain is a type of pain, but it’s also a word for what is causing your pain. (Imagine it like a subcategory). Diabetic neuropathy, peripheral neuropathy, sciatica pain, and shingles are all conditions that cause nerve pain. Stroke and multiple sclerosis can also cause you to develop this type of pain. 

How to treat it

Treatment for persistent neuropathic pain usually requires a diagnosis from a neurological specialist. These doctors specialize in identifying and treating nerve pain. 

Over-the-counter pain relievers are a short-term solution, but more powerful prescription drugs may be necessary to really address neurological pain. Anti-seizure medications, nerve blockers, and antidepressant medications are all in the neurologist’s toolbox. 

Radicular Pain

Radicular pain refers specifically to pain that radiates throughout your back, hips and spine. This type of pain is associated with damage or inflammation to your nerve roots. In addition to the sharp and very particular type of discomfort it causes, radicular pain can also result in numbness, tingling and loss of sensation in your extremities. 

Radicular pain is commonly caused by a herniated disk in your back. Spondylosis, infection, and traumatic injury can also cause this type of pain. Depending on the cause, it can become chronic. 

How to treat it

Radicular pain may be managed temporarily with over-the-counter medication. Long-term, you may need other treatment options. Steroid shots can help treat recurring pain in your lower back, but their effects can wear off after a few months. Herniated discs may require surgery to correct. Physical therapy is also an option. 

Referred Pain

Referred pain is a term to describe pain that feels like it’s coming from one area of your body, but which is actually caused by a problem elsewhere. For example, you may feel pain in your teeth or jaws before you feel chest pain during the early stages of a heart attack. Pain you feel in your shoulders can mean that you have a liver cyst or an injured spleen. 

Referred pain happens because of the complicated ways that our nerves are set up and the way they interact with each other. Researchers don’t fully understand all of the causes and effects of referred pain. If the cause of referred pain is left untreated, it can develop into chronic pain. 

Fibromyalgia, chronic lower back pain, certain stomach and digestive conditions and heart disease can all cause referred pain. 

How to treat it

Treating referred pain depends on uncovering the cause, which can sometimes involve a bit of detective work. You may want to take an ibuprofen to temporarily relieve pain symptoms, but that’s no replacement for advice from a medical professional who can help determine where the pain is coming from. 

Visceral Pain

Visceral pain is what you feel when internal organs and tissues in the midsection are inflamed or damaged. This type of pain might not feel like it’s coming from a specific place in the body, but may instead take the form of a deep throb or ache. It can be gnawing or dull, but it is not typically sharp the way that acute pain would be. If the cause of your visceral pain is left untreated, it can become chronic. 

Injuries to your gallbladder, intestines, abdominal wall, kidneys, pancreas and your chest can all cause visceral pain. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), urinary tract infections (UTIs), chronic pelvic pain, kidney stones and clogged bile ducts are all associated with visceral pain. 

How to treat it

Before you start treating visceral pain, you’ll need to understand the underlying cause. Over-the-counter drugs are recommended for acute visceral pain, while a pain management specialist and your primary care doctor will need to give you a longer-term treatment plan if the pain becomes chronic. 

How Clearing helps you get relief

Here at Clearing, we address chronic pain in all its forms. We take a holistic approach, finding out what’s going on in your life through a carefully designed medical intake process that pain specialists then use to help you determine what pain relief strategy may be the best fit for you. 

Chronic pain can respond to a wide array of treatment approaches, which is why we offer a library of customized home exercises, nutraceuticals, specially formulated topical pain creams, and CBD cream. Want to find out more? Our free trial gives you a chance to try out the approach created especially for you.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your individual needs and medical conditions.