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Chronic Pain


What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is pain that does not get better for 6 weeks or longer. There are many causes, including nerve or muscle pain, arthritis, infection, or a fracture. Chronic pain may hurt all the time, or come and go.

How is chronic pain diagnosed?

Your caregiver will try to find the cause of your pain. He will ask where your pain is, what it feels like, and when it started. He will ask how your pain is affecting your daily life, your mood, and your sleep. He will also ask about health problems that may make your pain worse.

  • Pain scales use things like numbers or faces to help you describe how bad your pain is. Your caregiver may ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10.
    Pain Scale
  • Imaging studies may be done to find out what is causing your chronic pain. These may include x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI. You may be given dye before a CT scan or MRI to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Stimulation tests may help to find which nerves or muscles are affected by pain. These tests may include nerve conduction or muscle function studies.

How is chronic pain treated?

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs help decrease pain and swelling. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, ask your caregiver if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Prescription pain medicine , such as narcotics, may be given. Ask your caregiver how to take this medicine safely.
  • Anesthetics can be rubbed on your skin or injected into a nerve or muscle to block pain signals.
  • Other medicines may reduce pain, anxiety, muscle tension, or swelling.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) gives you mild, safe electrical signals through a small device attached to your skin.
  • Surgery may be done to repair a joint or implant a device. Some devices stimulate your nerves with safe electrical signals. Other devices release pain medicine into your body.

What else can I do to manage chronic pain?

  • Apply heat on the area in pain for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • Apply ice on the part of your body that hurts for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice decreases pain and swelling, and helps prevent tissue damage.
  • Go to physical therapy. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
  • Exercise for 20 to 30 minutes, 2 to 3 times a week. Regular physical activity can help decrease pain and improve your quality of life. Ask your caregiver about the best exercise plan for your type of pain.
  • Talk with a counselor or therapist. A type of counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help your chronic pain by changing the way you think about it. CBT can also improve your mood, sleep, and ability to move.
  • Get enough sleep. Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon.

What do I need to know if I take narcotic medicine for chronic pain?

  • The most common side effect of narcotics is constipation. You may be given medicine to soften your stool and make it easier to have a bowel movement. Other side effects include nausea, vomiting, and skin itchiness.
  • Do not mix narcotics with other narcotics. This can cause an overdose of medicine, which can become life-threatening. Read labels. Make sure you know the ingredients in all of your medicines.
  • Do not drink alcohol when you take narcotics. It is not safe to mix narcotics with alcohol or illegal drugs.
  • Narcotics may impair your ability to drive or work safely. They may also cause dizziness and increase your risk for falling.
  • You may need more narcotics over time to control your pain. This is called tolerance. Narcotics can also become addictive. Talk to your caregiver if you have concerns about tolerance or addiction.
  • Store narcotics in a safe location at home. Keep your medicine away from children and other people. Never share your medicine with anyone.

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • You have difficulty sleeping.
  • Your pain gets worse, even after you take your medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I or someone close to me seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You are breathing slower than normal, or you have trouble breathing.
  • You cannot be awakened.
  • You have a seizure.
  • Your heart is beating slower than normal.
  • Your heart feels like it is jumping or fluttering.
  • You cannot think clearly.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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