Pain Archive

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What is chronic inflammation?

Ask the doctor

Q. I have suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for many years, and recently I also developed diabetes. My doctor says they are both related to inflammation. What is inflammation, and how can two such different diseases be connected to it?

A. Inflammation is both an old and a new idea in medicine. Roman physicians 2,000 years ago noted that wounds that were healing and joints that suffered from arthritis (like yours) became red, warm, swollen, and painful. It was like they were on fire: inflammare was the verb for setting on fire. But why did a wound become red, warm, swollen, and painful? They had no idea.

Opioids after heart surgery: A cautionary tale

Research we're watching

A recent study found that nearly one in 10 people who received opioid pain relievers following heart surgery continued to take them for three to six months — a time point when no one should still be experiencing pain from the operation.

The study included nearly 36,000 people with private health insurance who had a coronary artery bypass graft (known as CABG or bypass surgery) or a heart valve replacement between 2003 and 2016. People who were prescribed more than 40 5-mg tablets of oxycodone (Oxycontin, Roxicodone, others) or an equivalent amount of a similar drug were at a much higher risk of prolonged opioid use than people who were prescribed lower doses. Other factors that increased a person's odds of taking opioids long-term included having CABG, being female, or having a history of chronic pain or alcoholism.

Can home remedies help my sciatica?

Ask the doctors

Q. Is there anything I can do at home to ease sciatica pain?

A. Sciatica is a condition that causes pain that radiates down the buttock and the leg. It occurs when one of the two sciatic nerves in your body, which run from your back down to your toes, is compressed or irritated. Most often the problem is triggered by a ruptured disc or arthritis in the lower spine. This condition can be quite painful, but there are some strategies you can use at home to ease your discomfort.

Chronic pain linked to higher risk of heart attack and stroke

Research we're watching

People with chronic pain may be more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those without chronic pain, according to a study published online May 7, 2020, by the journal Pain Medicine.

From 2001 to 2005, researchers identified 17,614 Taiwanese people who had used pain relievers for at least three months. The most common causes of pain were spinal disorders, arthritis, and headaches; the pain relievers included both over-the-counter drugs and prescription opioids. For the comparison group, researchers used 35,228 people without chronic pain who were matched by age and sex to those in the first group.

Relief for sore backsides

You can ease the pain of sitting too much by getting up and moving around. Try these stretches and exercises.

An excess of inactivity isn't just bad for overall health; it can literally be a pain in the butt. You could end up with a sore backside if you sit at a desk all day long, if you're confined to a wheelchair, if you sit on hard surfaces for long periods, or if you're simply not as active as you once were. Whatever the reason for rear-end pain, it's time to stand up and get a little relief.

What's causing your pain?

When you sit in a chair, you're resting on your ischial tuberosities, or "sit bones" — the bony prominences at the bottom of your pelvis. You're also placing lots of pressure on your lower back, nerves, muscles, tendons, and ischial bursae (fluid-filled sacs near the ischial bones). Sitting can aggravate (or in some cases cause) these common sources of buttocks pain.

Will my herniated disc heal on its own?

Ask the doctors

Q. I have a herniated disc in my back. What does this mean, and will this heal on its own?

A. A herniated disc, also called a slipped or ruptured disc, is a common problem that can happen at any age, but becomes more common in middle age and beyond. It occurs when the jelly-like filling in a spinal disc — one of the pads between your vertebrae, or spinal bones — breaks through the disc's outer shell, called the annulus, and bulges through the tear. When this happens, the material may press on nearby nerves, which can cause a host of symptoms including inflammation, pain, and numbness. Where in your body you experience these symptoms depends on the location of the herniated disc. For example, if the disc is in your neck, you may feel pain down your shoulder and into your arm. If the disc is lower in your back, it may irritate your sciatic nerve, which can cause pain that radiates through your buttock and down your leg. The good news is that in most cases — 90% of the time — pain caused by a herniated disc will go away on its own within six months. Initially, your doctor will likely recommend that you take an over-the-counter pain reliever and limit activities that cause pain or discomfort. But in some cases, if you've been using these strategies and haven't noticed an improvement, your doctor may recommend further evaluation and possibly an additional treatment strategy, such as physical therapy. Surgery is typically not recommended unless the problem does not respond to therapy, if you are having an increasingly hard time moving, or if your doctor believes the spinal cord is being compressed.

5 Internet recommendations for joint pain: Do they work?

Some ideas seem reasonable, but that doesn't mean they'll help.

People increasingly consult the Internet about medical problems. If you're looking for approaches to relieve joint pain and inflammation caused by wear and tear (osteoarthritis) or an immune system attack (such as occurs in rheumatoid arthritis), you may find methods that sound promising and even sensible. But will they work? Here's advice on five pain relief methods commonly touted on the Internet.

1. Music therapy

Listening to music can evoke powerful emotions that help people relax or heal, which is the basis of music therapy. Research has found that music therapy is associated with less anxiety before surgery or during chemotherapy, and better functioning during physical rehabilitation.

Is it time to consider using medical marijuana?

The stigma is fading, but learn the pros and cons before trying it.

Despite the hype and popularity of medical marijuana, you may not be sure if it's something to consider. You're right to be cautious; the use of marijuana to treat health problems is still being studied, and we don't have all the answers about its risks and benefits.

We do know that medical marijuana use among older adults is increasing. "Older adults tend to use it for physical ailments. No. 1 is chronic pain. Insomnia is another big one, too. Older people have a hard time sleeping, and there aren't a lot of other safe options," says Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

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