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Pain management: Treatment overview

What are the treatments for chronic pain?

The treatments for chronic pain are as diverse as the causes. From over-the-counter and prescription medications to mind/body techniques to acupuncture, if one approach doesn't work, another one might. However, when it comes to treating chronic pain, no single technique is guaranteed to produce complete pain relief. Relief may be found by using a combination of treatment options.

Medication: Non-prescription and prescription

Milder forms of pain may be relieved by over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories ( NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Both paracetamol and NSAIDs relieve pain caused by muscle aches and stiffness, but only NSAIDs can also reduce inflammation ( swelling and irritation). Topical pain relievers are also available, such as creams, lotions or sprays that are applied to the skin in order to relieve pain from sore muscles and arthritis.

If over-the-counter products do not provide relief, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications, such as muscle relaxants, anti- anxiety medications, antidepressants, prescription NSAIDs, or a short course of stronger painkillers. A limited number of steroid injections at the site of a joint problem can reduce swelling and inflammation.

Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) is another method of pain control. By pushing a button on a computerised pump, the patient is able to self administer a pre-measured dose of pain medicine. The pump is connected to a small tube that allows medicine to be injected intravenously (into a vein), subcutaneously (just under the skin), or into the spinal area. This is often used in the hospital to treat pain.

Sometimes, a group of nerves that causes pain to a specific organ or body region can be blocked with local medication. The injection of this nerve-numbing substance is called a nerve block. Although many kinds of nerve blocks exist, this treatment cannot always be used. Often blocks are not possible, are too dangerous, or are not the best treatment for the problem. Your doctor can advise you as to whether this treatment is appropriate for you.

Trigger point injections

Trigger point injection is a procedure used to treat painful areas of muscle that contain trigger points, or knots of muscle that form when muscles do not relax. During this procedure, a health care professional, using a small needle, injects a local anaesthetic that sometimes includes a steroid into a trigger point. With the injection, the trigger point is made inactive and the pain is alleviated. Usually, a brief course of treatment will result in sustained relief.

Trigger point injection is used to treat muscle pain in the arms, legs, lower back, and neck. In addition, this approach has been used to treat fibromyalgia, tension headaches and myofascial pain syndrome (chronic pain involving tissue that surrounds muscle) that does not respond to other treatment.

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