Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, DraconianRain.

The statistics on pain and its impact are alarming. The Canadian economy takes a substantial hit because of it – more than $7-billion annually – according to the Global Pain Index. The study conducted by GSK found that Canadians are also missing work and family time due to pain. Its impact is multi-faceted and destructive physically, emotionally and financially.

The research also revealed that Canadians take an average of 1,233 pills per year on averagewith 53 percent of them taken for pain. Most Canadians reach for pills. It’s our go-to reaction to pain. Experts say that it’s important to find a cause of the discomfort, then address it with the right treatment option, whether it’s with over-the-counter topical cream or an injection.

Taking a pill to cope with pain is a short-term bandaid solution. Seek the cause. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Marco Verch.

Pain is a complex concept. It involves an intricate relationship between specialized nerves, the brain and spinal cord. It’s often compared to a traffic system with traffic lights, varied weather and road conditions, different speeds and a variety on on-ramps. And one person’s experience with pain is unlike anyone else’s. How you react to it depends on a myriad of factors, like genetics, gender (women report more frequent and severe pain than men), emotional wellness (pain is more prevalent among those with depression and anxiety), and the availability of learned coping mechanisms.

Pain is a necessary evil. It’s your body’s way of letting you know something amiss.

Pain is a necessary evil. It’s your body’s way of letting you know something amiss. Your sensory cells convey the information to your brain the same way they relay information via electronic current and chemical reactions around the senses – smell, sight, taste and touch.

There are two main categories of pain. Acute is a sudden, come-out-of-nowhere type that might be caused by an accident, surgery or illness. There’s usually a clear cause-and-effect interaction at play. For example, a scrape on your knee might be caused by a fall. This type of pain usually resolves with a certain amount of time. However, chronic pain is long lasting, sometimes for months or years. Its causes may be more unclear. Think of ailments like headaches, back and joint pain.

Tips on coping with pain

  • Know the key words to describe what you are feeling. You’ll want to be able to tell your doctor in the most accurate terms possible about your pain experience. They might include: aching tender, sharp, shooting, hot, burning, nagging, intense, tingling, stabbing, dull and throbbing.
  • Keep a pain diary to provide a complete picture. You can keep a right journal or use of the new pain apps available.
  • Note how severe it is and chart it. Rate your pain on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 10.
  • Pay attention to where and when you feel pain. Is it worse at night? Better after you eat?
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist, depending on the severity of your pain. Provide specific details on what you are experiencing and how it impacts your quality of life. This helps health care professionals offer the most suitable treatment option, whether it’s using a heating pad, topical cream, or a prescription-strength medicine.
  • Consider lifestyle habits that will ease discomfort, including meditation, reducing stress and tapping into endorphins released through exercise (if it is safe).
  • Avoid alcohol as a coping mechanism. It may seem like a suitable short-term solution, but it has long-term complications on things like sleep.