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Pain Archive


Easing the ache

Updated July 1, 2020

Osteoarthritis pain can be debilitating. Strategies can help get you moving again.

Pain from osteoarthritis is more than just a nuisance. Knee pain, in particular, can not only keep people from exercising, but also have a chilling effect on their ability to participate in social activities, especially those that involve walking or traveling, says Elena Losina, the Robert W. Lovett Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Orthopaedic and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"In fact, the quality of life of a person with persistent pain due to knee osteoarthritis is similar to quality of life in women with metastatic breast cancer controlled by therapy," she says.

How can I treat painful night leg cramps?

Updated July 1, 2020

On call

Q. I occasionally get an excruciating leg cramp that wakes me from sleep. What causes leg cramps, and how can I prevent them?

A. Although nocturnal leg cramps can strike people at any time of life, they become more frequent with age. Among people older than age 50, about half report having leg cramps, a third say they are awakened at night by them, and 15% report having cramps about once per week.

Which painkiller is safest for you?

Updated May 1, 2020

It's more important than ever to consider your particular health risks before popping a nonprescription pain reliever.

Have a headache, muscle strain, or maybe arthritis pain? Don't reach for just any over-the-counter (OTC) remedy. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin are commonly used OTC painkillers. So is acetaminophen (Tylenol). For decades, these drugs were thought to be entirely safe — justifying the ability to purchase them without a doctor's prescription.

But the thinking on OTC painkillers has changed now that we know more about their risks. And it's especially important to navigate these medications with care. Here are guidelines to help you narrow the options.

Can hot cocoa ease pain from peripheral artery disease?

Updated May 1, 2020

Research we're watching

Hot cocoa may be just what the doctor ordered… for leg pain. A small study published February 14 by Circulation Research found that adults with peripheral artery disease (PAD) who drank a specially designed hot cocoa had less PAD-related leg pain when walking than those who didn't drink the cocoa.

PAD is a condition in which fatty deposits collect and reduce blood flow in arteries outside the heart — most commonly in the legs. People with PAD commonly experience pain when walking. For this study, researchers gave 44 people with PAD a specially designed cocoa-containing beverage three times a day for six months. The cocoa drinkers were able to walk on average almost 140 feet farther in a timed walking test than people who drank the same amount of the same beverage that didn't contain the cocoa. The cocoa drinkers also had some improved muscle function and blood flow into the calves. While the drinks were specially designed for the trial, the researchers speculated that cocoa may contain an ingredient that helps muscle cells using oxygen more efficiently.

Sciatica home remedies and self-care

Updated April 21, 2020


Regardless of the cause, about 90% of people with sciatica will get better without surgery—most of them in just a few weeks. You can start treating your sciatica at home. In fact, home treatment may be all you need, especially if you know that your sciatica is caused by an injury or pregnancy.

Even if you don't know what's causing your sciatica, you can take steps to relieve your pain at home. Call your doctor if the pain isn't manageable or under certain other circumstances.


Updated April 20, 2020

What Is It?

Gout is a disorder characterized by too much uric acid in the blood and tissues. In gout, crystals of uric acid are deposited in the joints, where they cause a type of arthritis called gouty arthritis. These same crystals can also deposit in the kidneys, where they can cause kidney stones.

There are three main causes of the high levels of uric acid that lead to gout:

ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) Injuries

Updated April 6, 2020

What Is It?

Ligaments are tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) are inside the knee joint. These ligaments connect the thigh bone (femur) and the large bone of the lower leg (tibia) at the knee joint. The ACL and PCL form an "X" inside the knee that stabilizes the knee against front-to-back or back-to-front forces.

An ACL injury is a sprain or tear, in which the ligament is stretched beyond its normal range. When the ACL is torn, it's almost always due to at least one of the following patterns of injury:

Collarbone (Clavicle) Fracture

Updated April 6, 2020

What Is It?

When a bone breaks or cracks, the injury is called a fracture. In the collarbone (clavicle), fractures can happen in three separate areas:

  • The outer third of the collarbone is near the tip of the shoulder. Fractures here usually are caused by an accidental fall or some other type of direct impact (football tackle, hockey check, car collision) that transmits force to the side or top of the shoulder. Fractures in this area account for about 15% of all collarbone fractures.
  • About 80% of all collarbone fractures occur in the middle third of the bone. A fracture here usually is related to a fall on an outstretched arm. This area also can be fractured by a direct impact to the middle of the collarbone, especially during stick sports, such as hockey or lacrosse.
  • The third nearest the breastbone rarely fractures. Fractures in this part of the collarbone almost always are caused by a direct blow to the front of the chest, often from a steering wheel impact during a car crash.

The collarbone is one of the most common fractures. In most collarbone fractures, the ends of the fractured bone do not move apart widely, and the area of tissue damage involves only the collarbone. In rare cases, a sharp portion of the fractured bone either will pierce the surface skin (an open fracture), or cut into one of the large nerves or blood vessels that travel through the shoulder. In severe impact injuries, it is also possible for a portion of the fractured collarbone to penetrate the upper part the lung, causing serious breathing problems.

Reactive Arthritis

Updated April 6, 2020

What Is It?

Reactive arthritis is an uncommon disease that causes inflammation of the joints and, in many cases, other areas, particularly the urinary tract and eyes. It is triggered by an infection, usually by a sexually transmitted organism or by certain gastrointestinal bacteria.

The most common infection causing reactive arthritis is the sexually transmitted disease (STD) chlamydia. Reactive arthritis can also be caused by gastrointestinal infection from bacteria such as salmonella, shigella, campylobacter or Yersinia, infections that can cause diarrhea and vomiting. These bacteria often are found in contaminated food or water. While these infections are common, reactive arthritis is not. Scientists believe that people who develop reactive arthritis have a certain genetic makeup. Supporting the theory that genetic makeup is a risk factor, about 50% of people with reactive arthritis carry a gene called HLA-B27, compared with 8% of the general population.


Updated April 6, 2020

What Is It?

Sciatica describes persistent pain felt along the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from the lower back, down through the buttock and into the lower leg. It is the longest nerve in the body. Pain results when this nerve is compressed or injured. It most commonly results from inflammation, bony enlargement due to arthritis or a displaced (herniated) disk in the lower spine.


Sciatica causes pain that begins in the lower back and spreads through the buttock, leg, calf and, occasionally, the foot. The pain generally will feel dull, aching or burning. Sometimes, it starts gradually, worsens during the night, and is aggravated by motion. Sciatica also can cause tingling, numbness or muscle weakness in the affected leg.

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