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Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
OxPARC

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Pain management

Most of the conditions we treat cause discomfort, and not just discomfort of the bones and muscles.

By understanding what pain is and how the body deals with pain, you can manage pain more effectively.

What is pain?

Pain is an unsettling experience that motivates us to act to reduce the signals that cause pain.

It is not a simple process but involves many interconnecting signals transmitted to the brain where they are interpreted in combination with other signals.

What triggers pain signals?

Obvious triggers include:

  • Tissue damage (e.g. bone fractures or bruising) which disrupts nerve endings
  • Bee stings which release toxic chemicals
  • Burns which fire up heat sensitive nerves

Less obvious triggers include:

  • Pressure
  • Loss of oxygen, energy or nutrients
  • Imbalance or "unrest" within the body

Nerve fibres are also known to spontaneously fire.

How does the body cope with pain?

The body has a number of ways of coping with pain:

  • Increased blood supply washes away the chemical triggers of pain and increases oxygen and nutrients
  • Chemicals called endorphins block pain signals in the brain
  • Movement can restore balance between areas of the body
  • Signals from the muscles, skin and brain can block pain signals
  • Other activities can be used to distract the mind

What can you do to reduce pain?

We recommend copying and enhancing how the body copes with pain. For example:

  • Rub or stroke all around the affected area to stimulate pain blocking signals
  • Use a hot water bottle to increase blood supply and its soothing effect
  • Numb areas of pain with ice
  • Keep moving to restore balance and promote pain blocking signals via the muscles
  • Find ways to distract the mind
  • Use medicines to reduce toxic chemicals (e.g. ibuprofen) or act like endorphins (e.g. codeine)

Sympathy also promotes the release of endorphins and other positive chemicals.