Everyone experiences pain at some time. It might be the result of an injury, operation, or pushing your body too hard. Headache, infection, arthritis, and other health problems cause pain. Unchecked, pain can rob you of the ability to sleep, work, and enjoy life. It can also lead to depression and anxiety.
We've come a long way from the days of "grin and bear it," or "no pain, no gain." Pain begets pain, so it's important to stop it early. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to pain relief. Standard medications can be a good option for many pain sufferers, but a wide range of effective nondrug therapies are also available.
A muscle strain is the stretching or tearing of muscle fibers. Most muscle strains happen for one of two reasons: either the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits or it has been forced to contract too strongly. In mild cases, only a few muscle fibers are stretched or torn, and the muscle remains intact and strong. In severe cases, however, the strained muscle may be torn and unable to function properly.
A paronychia is an infection of the skin that surrounds a toenail or fingernail. There are two different types of paronychia, acute and chronic:
Acute paronychia — This usually appears as a sudden, very painful area of swelling, warmth and redness around a fingernail or toenail, usually after an injury to the area. An acute paronychia typically is caused by an infection with bacteria that invade the skin where it was injured. The injury can be caused by overaggressive manicuring (especially cutting or tearing the cuticle, which is the rim of paper-thin skin that outlines the outer margins of your nail). It can also result from biting the edges of the nails or the skin around the nails, picking at the skin near the nails or sucking on the fingers.
Chronic paronychia — This is an infection that usually develops slowly, causing gradual swelling, tenderness and redness of the skin around the nails. It usually is caused by Candida or other species of yeast (fungus). It often affects several fingers on the same hand. People who are more likely to get this infection include those with diabetes or workers whose jobs constantly expose their hands to water or chemical solvents. Such jobs include bartending, house cleaning, janitorial work, dentistry, nursing, food service, dishwashing and hairdressing.
Otitis externa is an infection of the ear canal caused by bacteria or fungi. It often is called swimmer's ear because it is associated with frequent swimming. Prolonged exposure to water, which may contain certain bacteria, makes the skin of the ear canal swollen and more likely to get infected. Summer humidity also changes the skin of the ear canal, increasing the possibility of infection.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. These headaches are not caused by disease. They are often considered to be "normal" headaches. Other names for tension headaches are ordinary headaches, muscle tension headaches, and stress headaches.
The International Headache Society has suggested that doctors use the term tension-type headaches because so many different names have been used for tension headaches. Typically tension-type headache causes mild to moderate pain, usually on both sides of the head. There is a pressing or tightening sensation. It is not pulsating and is not accompanied by nausea. The headache does not get worse with routine physical activity.
Cluster headaches are very intense headaches. They usually start in the area around one eye, then spread to nearby areas of the face. Each headache lasts about a half-hour to three hours. Episodes can occur several times over 24 hours (in clusters). This happens daily, lasting several weeks to months.
Most cluster headaches occur at night. This condition affects men much more frequently than women. Some people discover they have "triggers" that start the headache, such as:
Certain foods, especially those with high amounts of nitrites (bacon for example)
Hot weather or hot showers and baths
On average, people experience one to three headache episodes daily for four to eight weeks. Once a cluster of episodes ends, the person may remain headache-free for months or years.
The cause of cluster headaches is unknown. They may be related to a temporary imbalance of brain chemicals.
You accidentally touch a hot stove. In a millisecond, you jerk your hand away. What just happened?
You have pain receptors throughout your body, both outside and within. These receptors send electrical messages through your spinal cord to the brain. You only become aware of pain after your brain receives and interprets these electrical messages. In some cases, such as when you touch a hot stove, the body can spring into defensive action even before the brain knows what is happening. That's because pain messages that reach the spinal cord can cause an automatic reflex response, making muscles near the source of the pain contract to get away from the pain.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a painful and long-lasting condition. CRPS usually causes severe, constant, burning pain in the affected arm or leg.
The cause of CRPS remains unknown. However, this condition can be triggered by damage to nerve fibers in tissue that has been injured.
Experts believe that in CRPS, nerves become overly sensitive. Painful signals become more painful. And common stimuli, such as light touch and temperature changes, also are experienced as pain.
This condition usually starts after an injury or other event. Examples include trauma, fracture, infection, surgery, stroke or wearing a plaster cast.
Often, the injury that triggers CRPS is mild compared with the pain that follows it. However, the condition also can follow more severe injury or paralysis. The pain often is not limited to the area that was injured.
A foot sprain is a tear of ligaments, the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones to one another inside a joint. Sprains range in severity from Grade I to Grade III.
Grade I — The injury is fairly mild, causing microscopic tears or stretching of the ligaments.
Grade II (moderate) — The ligaments may be partially torn, and the stretching is more severe.
Grade III (severe) — The ligaments are completely torn, so the foot may be unstable and no longer able to bear weight.
Because the foot bears the entire body's weight with each step and contains numerous bones and joints, you may expect the foot to be at high risk of sprains. However, sprains of the foot are fairly rare, except in people who participate in certain sports or occupations that subject the feet to abnormal twisting motions or bends.
When foot sprains occur, they usually involve one of two distinct areas:
Midfoot — The midfoot is the central area that includes the arch of the foot. In athletes, midfoot sprains usually occur because of a sports-related fall, a collision or an isolated twist of the midfoot, particularly during snowboarding, windsurfing, horseback riding or competitive diving. Among female ballet dancers, midfoot sprains typically happen when the dancer loses her balance while en pointe (on her toes) and spinning or when she lands with her foot abnormally flexed or rotated after a jump. Among people who do not compete in high-risk activities, about one-third of midfoot sprains happen by accident, simply because of an odd twist of the foot during an ordinary stumble or fall. Less often, severe midfoot sprains are the result of high-impact trauma, especially trauma caused by a motor vehicle collision or a fall from a high place. This type of injury is likely to produce not only Grade III sprains, but also foot fractures and open wounds.
First metatarsophalangeal joint — This is the joint at the base of the big toe. A sprain of this joint is called turf toe, and it is usually caused by hyperextension (extreme backward bending) of the big toe. The typical scenario involves either a football player or a ballet dancer who falls forward while the big toe is planted flat against the ground. In football, turf toe is most common in players who wear lightweight soccer-style shoes while competing on artificial playing surfaces. The relatively flexible soles of their shoes probably don't offer enough protection for the first metatarsophalangeal joint, increasing the risk of a turf toe injury. The situation is probably similar for ballet dancers, particularly males.
A knee sprain is an injury of the ligaments, tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect the bones of the upper and lower leg at the knee joint. The knee joint has four major ligaments.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) — The ACL and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) bridge the inside of the knee joint, forming an "X" pattern that stabilizes the knee against front-to-back and back-to-front forces. The ACL typically sprains during one of the following knee movements: a sudden stop; a twist, pivot or change in direction at the joint; extreme overstraightening (hyperextension); or a direct impact to the outside of the knee or lower leg. These injuries are seen among athletes in football, basketball, soccer, rugby, wrestling, gymnastics and skiing.
Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) — The PCL works with the ACL to stabilize the knee. It most often sprains because of a direct impact to the front of the knee, such as hitting the knee on the dashboard in a car crash or landing hard on a bent knee during sports. In athletes, PCL injuries are most common among those who play football, basketball, soccer and rugby.
Medial collateral ligament (MCL) — The MCL supports the knee along the inner side of the leg. Like the ACL, the MCL can be torn by a direct sideways blow to the outside of the knee or lower leg, the kind of blow that can happen in football, soccer, hockey and rugby. The MCL can be injured by a severe knee twist during skiing or wrestling, particularly when a fall twists the lower leg outwards, away from the upper leg.
Lateral collateral ligament (LCL) — The LCL supports the outer side of the knee. It is the least likely knee ligament to be sprained because most LCL injuries are caused by a blow to the inside of the knee, and that area usually is shielded by the opposite leg.
A meniscus is a disk-shaped piece of cartilage that acts as a shock absorber inside a joint. Each knee has one lateral meniscus under the outer knob of the thighbone and one medial meniscus under the inner knob of the thighbone. Each meniscus acts as a natural cushion between the thighbone (femur) and shinbone (tibia). The two cushions prevent excess wear and tear inside the knee joint by keeping the ends of the two bones from rubbing together. Each meniscus also absorbs much of the shock of jumps and landings and helps to distribute joint fluid evenly to lubricate and nourish the knee.