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    What you don’t know about pain can hurt you

    You may not like it, but when you feel pain, your body is trying to tell you something. In most cases, it’s to stop what you’re doing. (“Ouch, that stove is hot!”) That’s why some pain is necessary and can prevent us from seriously injuring ourselves. But, at times, pain also can be intolerable, becoming constant and negatively impacting your quality of life.

    “Understandably people want to alleviate their pain,” says Jane C.K. Fitch, M.D., president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). “Over-the-counter pain relievers can provide temporary relief from minor pain such as headaches and muscle aches. But in many cases, the reasons for and extent of pain are complex and there’s more to safe pain control than popping a pill.”

    If you or a loved one suffers from chronic pain, it’s important to learn the best way to treat it, according to ASA. Here are some things you should know about pain:

    * Address pain when you first feel it: Acute pain is the type you feel after cutting your finger or breaking a bone. It hurts but eventually the pain goes away. When pain doesn’t subside and lasts for several months, it can be considered chronic. Unfortunately, acute pain – such as from surgery – can become chronic if it’s not treated correctly by physicians because the nerves may be injured or become hypersensitive to the stimuli causing the pain. Learn more about physicians who specialize in pain medicine and how they manage pain by visiting

    * Chronic pain is common: About 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, which can seriously interfere with their quality of life, according to the Institute of Medicine. The most common sources of chronic pain are headaches, back pain and arthritis pain in the joints, such as knees and hips.

    * Pills are not always the right solution: If you are someone suffering from chronic pain, there are many alternatives beyond traditional oral pain medication to provide you with relief. Serious pain sometimes may be alleviated or minimized by injections or appropriate use of medication(s). In addition, other non-medication methods can help alleviate pain, such as acupuncture, physical therapy, psychological therapy and electrical stimulation – which short circuits pain by stimulating nerve fibers either through the skin or, in some cases, via an implanted device in the spine (and no, it’s not painful).

    * Anxiety equals more pain: People who feel anxious before they have surgery are more likely to feel higher levels of pain afterward. That’s why before a procedure patients are evaluated. Questions regarding their care are answered and physician anesthesiologists often administer medications to help reduce a patient’s anxiety, in addition to performing blocks or administering medications to treat pain.

    * Pain medicine requires specialist care by a physician: Pain medications are strong, the spine and nerves that register pain are delicate and everyone’s anatomy and pain tolerance is different. Pain treatment is complex and it can cause more harm if it is not provided by a skilled pain medicine specialist such as a physician anesthesiologist, who has the training and expertise to diagnose and treat each individual patient safely and effectively.

    Care provided by a pain specialist is effective because it is individualized to each person. Therefore, it’s important that pain medication be taken only by the person to whom it was prescribed. If you are prescribed pain medications from a skilled pain medicine specialist, be sure to safely store and dispose of prescription medicines once you are finished with them to ensure they are not accessible to anyone else.

    The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) recently released a list of specific tests or procedures related to pain medicine that are commonly ordered but not always necessary as part of Choosing Wisely, an initiative of the ABIM Foundation. The list identifies five targeted, evidence-based recommendations that can support conversations between patients and physicians about appropriate pain care. To view the list, visit

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