The importance of pain control

Although pain can protect us by forcing us to rest an injury or to stop doing something, the experience of being in a state of uncontrolled pain is horrible, frightening, and can have a profound effect on our quality of life. Uncontrolled pain can:

  • delay healing
  • decrease appetite
  • increase stress
  • disrupt sleep
  • cause anxiety and depression

Unrelieved pain has consequences

It turns out that healing is actually delayed when pain caused by tissue damage is not relieved. Research shows that uncontrolled pain has an adverse effect on our immune system. Continuous pain also appears to lower our body’s ability to respond to stressful situations such as surgery, chemotherapy, and psychological stress.

Far-reaching consequences can also result from pain due to damage to a nerve (neuropathic pain). This type of unrelieved pain seems to cause changes in the nervous system that contribute to the development of chronic pain long after the damage to the nerve has healed.

We already know that controlling pain helps to provide enjoyment and peace to those who are living with a life-threatening illness, but pain control may also prolong life by reducing the negative effects that pain has on the body.

Debunking pain myths

Sometimes, misconceptions about pain can get in the way of pain control. Here are some common misunderstandings about pain.

  • Pain happens, you just need to put up with it.
    Pain control and comfort is a reasonable expectation. Pain does not have to be tolerated, but can be treated to improve your comfort and quality of life.
  • If I take pain medication too early, it won’t work when the pain gets really bad.
    When treated early, pain is easier to control. There are many options for controlling pain.
  • I will get addicted to narcotic pain medications.
    The majority of people taking opioid (narcotic) pain medications for pain do not become addicted. Some people will develop tolerance (need higher doses of the medication over time) or physical dependence (experience withdrawal symptoms if the medication is stopped suddenly), but these can be managed.
  • Doctor and nurses are so busy. I don’t want to bother them.
    Yes, nurses and doctors are busy, but you have the right to have your pain controlled and they don’t want to see you in pain. Even if they seem too busy, it’s important to let your nurse or doctor know when your pain is not controlled.

Establishing trust with your health care team

Before discussing the details of pain control, it is important to understand that having trust in your health care team is essential for good pain management. To establish this trust, you need those around you, especially your health care team, to believe that your pain is what you say it is. This is the key that will allow you and your health care team to work together to help you deal with the pain.

Also, it is very helpful to get an explanation for the pain – what is causing it and why it is occurring. The unknown pain always hurts more than the known pain. Indeed, knowing the source of the pain is one of the first steps to being able to control it.

Being able to talk about the pain will also help you to cope better: how it affects you and how you feel about what is causing it. As well, it is crucial to be able to discuss other issues in your life, either with the people around you or a member of your health care team. If you are worried about relationships, spiritual issues, your future health, finances, or other issues, your pain will be magnified.

Today there are many options available to adequately control pain, and pain control is something you can aim for. You may have to balance the level of pain control with certain medication side effects, but pain control should be your goal.