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Pain Archive

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Chronic pain linked to higher risk of heart attack and stroke

Updated September 1, 2020

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

Updated September 1, 2020

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?

Updated September 1, 2020

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?

Updated August 1, 2020

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?

Updated August 1, 2020

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.

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.

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