Pain Archive


What is a tailor's bunion?


Regular bunions affect the big toe; a tailor's bunion, the little toe. Another term for tailor's bunion is bunionette.

Both types are caused by a misalignment of the small bones in the toes. As a result, the joint between the metatarsal and the first phalanx juts out and the end of the toe turns inward, toward the middle three toes.

&%!!# helps when you're hurting


In 2009, British psychology researchers reported the results of a study that showed swearing altered pain perception. The study volunteers could hold a hand in ice-cold (41 degrees F) water about 40 seconds longer if they repeated a swear word of their choosing instead of a control word (one of five words they had picked for describing a table).

Swearing was also associated with an increase in heart rate, so the psychologists theorized that the body's fight-or-flight response is activated by the emotions that swearing produces. Pain perception takes a backseat once the body is in fight-or-flight mode.

Talking about migraine

Dr. Paul B. Rizzoli is director of the John R. Graham Headache Center at Faulkner Hospital in Boston. He is co-author of The Migraine Solution: A Complete Guide to Diagnosis, Treatment, and Pain Management, a Harvard Health Publications/St. Martin's Press book.

What is a migraine headache?

Migraine can be defined as a limiting headache — a headache that stops you from functioning. The pain is not a mild, insignificant thing you can ignore; you must actively decide what to do about it. Nausea is also a common symptom.

Feet and falling

Taking care of your feet could improve your chances of staying on them.

For most of our adult lives, we can take it pretty much for granted that once we're upright and on our feet, we'll stay that way. But starting in about our mid-60s, remaining perpendicular is not such a sure thing. Each year, about one in every three older Americans takes a tumble, and the chances of falling increase in our 80s and 90s.

Polymyalgia rheumatica

It sounds like a new threat to health, but it was first diagnosed in 1888 as "senile rheumatic gout." It sounds rare, even exotic, but it's actually quite common. It sounds serious, even ferocious, but it responds beautifully to proper treatment. It's polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR), a painful, sometimes disabling condition that can be associated with giant cell arteritis (GCA), a disease that is much less common but much more serious.

You don't have to remember the unfamiliar name or even the simple initials, but you should understand the symptoms and treatments that can restore comfort in PMR and, in the case of GCA, preserve your vision.

Conversation with a Harvard expert


Dr. Donald T. Reilly is an orthopedic surgeon at New England Baptist Hospital and a long-time member of the Health Letter's editorial board.

How many knee and hip replacements have you done?

Ask the doctor: How does hot pepper cream work to relieve pain?

Q. I have pain from osteoarthritis in both knees. I'm curious about the cream made from a substance in hot peppers. How does it relieve pain?

A. You're referring to capsaicin, the substance in chili peppers that gives them their hot taste. Capsaicin is an ingredient in many over-the-counter topical pain-relief preparations, which include creams, gels, lotions, patches, and sticks. When first applied, topical capsaicin causes a burning sensation. This sensation lessens within a few minutes, and also over time with repeated applications. There are few, if any, systemic side effects.

Pain, anxiety, and depression

Pain, anxiety, and depression often coincide because the parts of the brain and nervous system that handle sensations and touch interact with those that regulate emotions and stress.

Ask the doctor: Headache and stroke

Q. I have heard that one symptom of a stroke is "the worst headache you can imagine." I recently had a migraine that was so much more painful than previous ones that I worried it was a stroke. Is there any way to tell a migraine from a "stroke headache"?

A. The term "stroke" covers several distinct events that differ in location and cause. Some types of stroke can trigger a headache; others usually don't. To understand the connection, it's helpful to know a bit about the brain and pain. Brain tissue, and the blood vessels embedded in it, doesn't register pain. But the membranes that surround the brain and the blood vessels that run through them do register pain.

Ask the doctor: What is venous insufficiency?

Q. I have been diagnosed with venous insufficiency. What does that mean?

A. Venous insufficiency means that some of your veins aren't working properly. This condition often develops after veins are damaged by an injury, surgery, or blood clot. Veins drain blood and fluid back to the heart, so people with venous insufficiency usually have symptoms caused by the buildup of fluid. Venous insufficiency most commonly occurs in the legs (varicose veins are one type of this condition), where its symptoms include

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