Pain may be unpleasant, but did you know that it’s an essential function of the body’s nervous system? Here, a pain specialist in Singapore shares how pain plays an important role, the difference between chronic pain and acute pain, and how both types can be managed with the help of a pain clinic.
What is pain?
It’s an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that may or may not be associated with tissue damage, explains Singapore pain specialist, DR DANIEL PHANG.
But, what is pain? “A highly complex and sophisticated protective mechanism, pain arises to warn us that our bodies are in danger of sustaining injury,” he says.
For example, if you touch a hot pan, the receptors in your brain send signals letting your body know to remove your hand from the hot surface – thus preventing further pain from occurring.
Chronic pain vs acute pain
There are two types of pain: chronic and acute. Both are undesirable and can affect quality of life.
At Affinity Pain Clinic, Dr Phang helps patients manage all kinds of pain, including joint, neck and back pain, sports injuries, headaches and chronic conditions like fibromyalgia.
This type of pain is short-lived, and usually lasts a couple of days or weeks. It usually occurs suddenly as a result of a minor injury or illness, and goes away once the injury has healed; for example, papercuts, sprains, menstrual cramps and a sore throat.
“Acute pain is your body’s way of indicating that your health is compromised,” says Dr Phang. It can usually be addressed with over-the-counter medications like Paracetamol that provide temporary relief.
Pain is considered chronic if it lasts for more than three months. Sometimes, it can even last for years. It can present as stabbing, shooting, burning and prickling sensations, as well as throbbing, sharp aches.
Chronic pain is usually caused by an underlying condition or an illness such as cancer. It can also stem from a previous injury that has healed but continues to trigger pain signals in your brain.
Because it doesn’t always have a treatable cause, chronic pain can be much harder to diagnose and treat than acute pain, says Dr Phang. It’s usually linked to an unseen underlying condition, making it tricky to figure out in some cases. For this reason, he says that chronic pain is best managed with a multidisciplinary approach adopted by pain specialists. It often takes a combination of treatment modalities to get chronic pain under control.
Treatments may include the following:
- pain medications
- minimally invasive, non-surgical intervention
One of the most popular interventions that Dr Phang’s patients gravitate toward is nerve block injection, which involves injecting the affected area with a mixture of anaesthetic and steroid to provide temporary relief.
Pain is personal
At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing pain – particularly chronic pain. Therefore, Dr Phang strongly recommends seeing a pain specialist.
“The extent of pain and the respective affected areas differ across various individuals, so consulting a pain medicine physician to delineate your sources of discomfort and chart out a personalised pain treatment plan can aid you in combating your affliction,” he says.
“At Affinity Pain Clinic, we understand that pain is a personal experience. Whether it’s acute or chronic, we utilise a combination of psychological and biomedical strategies to help you cope.
This article first appeared in the May 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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