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Self-Care Your Pain Away

Self-Care Your Pain Away

Pain. A word we can all identify with to some degree, but which can be difficult to understand and manage on a daily basis. Pain does not affect just the body – it affects you mentally and emotionally as well as physically. It can contribute to both low mood and decreased energy levels, as well as affect your concentration and productivity.

But the good news is that it does not have to rule your life. “There are different techniques for managing pain and with so many over the counter pain medications available, sufferers have ample recourse to safe and effective self-care”, says Allison Vienings, Executive Director of the Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA).

Non-prescription or over-the-counter medicines play an important role in self-care and may be purchased without a prescription. These medications can manage pain effectively and are safe when used as directed on the label or by your healthcare professional.
Some key points to remember are:
• Know the active ingredients.
• Use only as directed.
• Taking a dose higher than recommended will not provide more relief and can be dangerous e.g. too much paracetamol can lead to liver damage, too much codeine can lead to addiction, too much non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) can cause stomach bleeding and kidney damage.
• Be cautious when giving paracetamol to children. Be sure that your infant is getting the infants’ pain formula and your older child is getting the children’s pain formula.

“The first step towards treatment, however, is knowing how to identify and treat pain - and when to seek medical help. Pain can alert you to a more serious problem so these steps are vital in ensuring that unexpected aches and pains do not interfere with your life,” Vienings continues.

Pain’s main purpose is to signal that the body is damaged or threatened by injury or trauma. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), pain is defined as “an unpleasant sensory or emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage”. In order to understand pain and the different treatment options available, one has to explore the different classifications and types of pain.

Classifications of pain
Pain can be classified as Neuropathic pain (caused when the nerves in the central or peripheral nervous system are damaged or become dysfunctional; described as a burning or electrical sensation), Nociceptive somatic pain (caused by an injury or disease outside the nervous system due to injury to the skin, muscles, bones, joints and connective tissue; described as constant, aching, gnawing) or Nociceptive visceral pain (caused by an injury or disease outside the nervous system due to ongoing injury to internal organs or the tissues that support them; described as deep, aching, colicky or cramping).

Types of pain
There are two types of pain, namely acute or chronic. Acute pain results from local tissue damage, generally subsides and is short-lived, but can last up to three months. Toothache and period pain are examples.

Chronic pain, in comparison, is mild to intense sensations that persist for long periods and extends beyond healing. Arthritis and most backache are classified as chronic pain.

Treatment options available
There are a number of different pain medications available, both with or without a prescription. Says Vienings: “Non-prescription or over-the-counter medicines are tools to support self-care, which can be purchased without a prescription and are safe and effective for use as directed on the label.”

The WHO has developed a pain ladder for treating pain:
Bottom step of ladder (mild pain): A non- opioid analgesic (paracetamol) or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) (aspirin, ibuprofen).

Middle step of ladder (moderate pain): A weak opioid (codeine) or an NSAID or non- opioid analgesic in a combination with a weak opioid may provide greater relief than their separate use.

Highest step of the ladder (severe pain): A strong opioid (morphine).

Other medication also available includes anaesthetics, drugs that reduce pain by treating its cause (antibiotics) and tranquillisers, sedatives and antidepressants.

“Use all medicines responsibly, recognising when you do need to see a doctor or if consulting your local pharmacist or nurse is sufficient,” says Vienings. She continues: “Most over the counter (OTC) medicines are available only in a pharmacy and a pharmacist is always on hand to offer professional advice. SMASA encourages the consumer to engage with the pharmacist in their quest for improved overall health.”

Inflammation, defined as a response that the body uses to protect tissue from injury, infection, disease, is the result of injury or infection that causes the release of chemicals such as prostaglandins or bradykinin in the body. These chemicals result in redness, swelling, intensified pain, heat and a loss of function. Acute inflammation lasts only a few days, can resonate due to an immediate response to injury or surgery and can be treated with NSAIDs. Chronic inflammation lasts for weeks, months and even years, for example asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Bad habits
Bad habits are one of the biggest contributors to everyday pain. Says Vienings: “Making small changes to ones’ day-to-day activities can go a long way towards eliminating pain. Getting enough rest and sleep in a comfortable position, practicing good posture at all times by sitting up straight and strengthening your muscles by exercising to reduce aches and pains are only a few examples of how small changes can result in better quality of life.”

In conclusion
Vienings concludes that pain – whether due to a stubbed toe or chronic arthritis – is an unavoidable part of life. “By educating oneself with the effective treatment options for different types of pain, one can sidestep having to spend money on the wrong medication. Use the knowledge that pharmacists and nurses have and know when it is necessary to visit a physician.”