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    Chronic Pain: Why You Shouldn't Ignore It

    Pain is the No. 1 cause of disability in the United States, but relief is often at hand.

    What Is Chronic Pain? continued...

    But some pain doesn't. All it takes is an injury that doesn't heal correctly, or joint deterioration, or nerve damage, and the pain-signaling system breaks down. Your pain isn't giving you a helpful message anymore -- it just hurts.

    If you have chronic pain, your gut instincts may work against you. If your knee hurts when you walk, you naturally want to walk less. But if you walk less, your muscles can weaken. The fatigue that comes with pain can immobilize you, causing weight gain and worsening physical health. Sometimes, exercising through chronic pain -- under a doctor's supervision, of course -- is the only way to decrease it. So we'll chalk one up to your high school coach. In this particular instance, walking it off might be just what the doctor ordered.

    Treating Pain

    Many treatments are available. Some are over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, Advil, and Motrin. Others are prescription painkillers, injections and nerve blocks, and high-tech surgeries. Treatment focuses on both easing the pain and treating the underlying cause, if possible.

    But getting the right treatment can be tricky. Oaklander says that some doctors may be too quick to give up. If your doctor can't seem to help, get a referral to an expert. If you have arthritis pain, see a rheumatologist. If you have migraines, see a neurologist. Or you could seek out a pain specialist.

    No matter what, listen to your pain, Oaklander says. If you have chronic pain, don't ignore it -- and never accept it.

    Migraine Pain? Partner With Your Doctor

    Migraine headaches are a common type of chronic pain; more than 28 million people in the United States have them. Treating this type of pain starts with developing a good partnership with your doctor. These tips will help you describe the pain you're feeling -- and they are useful for other kinds of chronic pain, too.

    • Keep a journal. Start taking notes a few weeks before your next appointment. Record when you have migraines, how severe they are, and other relevant details, including: stress levels; sleep patterns; foods or alcohol that may have triggered a migraine; and other possible triggers, such as menstrual periods, exercise, or even sex.
    • Be specific. Explain how your pain affects you in concrete terms. Do you suffer from auras? Areyour migraines so bad that you have to leave work? Do you have nausea or light sensitivity? Do migraines prevent you from doing things you enjoy?
    • Be honest. It's crucial that your doctor know about all other medicines you use, including herbal medicines and supplements.
    • Ask for a referral. If your doctor can't ease your pain, ask to see a specialist, such as a neurologist who focuses on treating migraines. This isn't an insult to your health care provider -- it's how the system is supposed to work, says Oaklander.

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    Reviewed on February 26, 2007

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