What is pain and how can we handle it?

editorial image

Almost 10 million Britons suffer pain on a daily basis* resulting in a major impact on quality of life and days off work which cost businesses and tax payers billions of pounds a year. But what is pain and how can we tackle it?

Mark Sykes is a pharmacist with Weldricks and understands only too well the issues and complexities surrounding pain and pain management.

“Pain is a huge subject,” explains Mark. “There are several different types of pain and every one of us has a different perception of pain. We learn our response to pain when we’re young and our reaction to it is based on experience. When we’re in pain it’s certainly not a pleasant experience and therefore we will have an emotional response too – pain can actually be connected to our mood.

“For example, if we’re feeling happy or we’re preoccupied by something, we may not notice pain too much. If you’re gardening, for example, and you scratch your leg you may not react straight away because your mind is focused on the task in hand. It’s only later, when you’re perhaps having a shower, and you see the scratch and wonder how it got there.

“When we feel pain it’s down to pain sensors in our skin that send signals to our brain. Our brain decides how to interpret these signals and essentially tells us how to react.

“The good news is that we can interfere with these signals and distract ourselves from the pain. A sprained ankle, for example, can be treated with a heat rub. This external stimulus creates a new sensation around the area of pain and overloads the neurons sending pain signals. This can be effective in taking our mind off the pain caused by the sprain!”

Continues Mark: “Sprains, strains and minor burns are specific examples of acute or short-term pain. Acute pain is our body’s response to something that’s causing us damage – it’s designed to prevent us doing more damage. This is where pharmacists come in because we can assist by advising the use of basic painkillers such as ibuprofen to relieve swelling or topical treatments to distract from the pain.

“Chronic or long-term pain is classed as pain that has existed for 12 weeks or more and is pain that gets in the way of day-to-day life. Back pain often presents as chronic pain and its cost to the exchequer is estimated to be around £5 billion per annum**. Its long-term effects can be devastating and prescription medications and hands-on therapy such as physiotherapy can have a positive outcome. We often see people in pharmacy with chronic pain and the first course of action is to refer them to their GP.

“Then there’s nerve pain which is connected to the nervous system and is usually caused by a damaged or trapped nerve causing it to ‘fire up’. This pain is more difficult to control and treat and, as with chronic pain, a GP consultation is the best place to start.”

Adds Mark: “General pain, as previously highlighted, is very common in the UK. But, it may come as a surprise that paracetamol is one of the top ten prescribed drugs. In 2013, 22.5 million prescriptions for paracetamol were written at a cost of £82 million, that’s a 2.5% increase on 2012.

“We’re inclined to view paracetamol almost as an everyday essential – we can purchase it readily but it’s vital we understand and respect it because long-term use can cause problems and, as with all painkillers, even result in addiction. If you take paracetamol on a daily basis when you don’t really need it, when you stop using it you can develop a ‘rebound headache’ simply because your body is used to having paracetamol inside it.

“There is currently a potentially lethal social media challenge sweeping the country which is seeing youngsters attempt to take as many paracetamol as possible. Overdosing on paracetamol can be extremely serious. In normal doses the drug is metabolised safely by an enzyme in the liver. If a person takes too much that enzyme is overwhelmed and another enzyme kicks in which can ultimately destroy the liver.”

Concludes Mark: “Pain is a highly complex and emotive topic. It’s probably the most common ailment we see amongst our customers. As with all drugs, painkillers used in the correct manner at the correct dose can be very effective at treating and managing pain. At Weldricks, we’re here to help, no appointment is required so it’s really easy to pop in and chat to us about specific types of pain and the medicines used to treat it. It’s just one of the many things we’re trained to advise and support with.”

For more information visit Weldricks

* Source: British Pain Society British Pain Society

** Source: British Pain Society British Pan SOciety

About Weldricks

HI Weldrick Ltd (trading at Weldricks Pharmacy) is a family owned business with a pharmacy tradition dating back to the 1930s when the current chairman’s grandmother opened her first pharmacy in Doncaster.

With a commitment to community pharmacy, the company has steadily grown to 66 pharmacies still concentrated in South Yorkshire (Doncaster, Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley in particular) with over 600 trained staff including 80 pharmacists, nine of who are clinical pharmacists.