Pain can be sharp or dull, intermittent or constant, throbbing or steady.2 Simply put, pain is an unpleasant sensation signalling there’s something wrong with your body – it is also the most common reason people visit their doctor.2
Pain happens as a result of a complex interaction between specialised nerves, your spinal cord and your brain. At the most basic level, pain begins when certain nerve endings are stimulated.3 This could be as a result from damage to your body – when you burn yourself, for example, or break a bone.
Pain can also result from damage or disruption to the nerves themselves because of an accident, infection, surgery or disease.
These damaged nerves then ‘misfire’ and send pain signals spontaneously (as opposed to sending them in response to an injury).3 Sometimes pain occurs for no known cause – or long after an injury has healed.
There are two major categories of pain: it can either be acute (short term) or chronic (long term).3
• Acute pain is a severe or sudden pain that eases within a certain amount of time. With acute pain, you usually know exactly where and why it hurts.
Your knee hurts after a fall or you feel pain at the site of a surgical incision. Acute pain is triggered by tissue damage – it serves to alert you to injury and protect you from further damage.3
• Chronic pain is persistent – it can last for months or even longer, and is considered a health condition in itself. With chronic pain, you may not know the reason for the pain.
An injury might have healed, for example, but the pain remains. Chronic pain can also occur without any indication of an injury or illness.3
What about inflammation?
Inflammation is an important part of your body’s immune response as it works to heal itself after an injury, repair damaged tissue and defend itself against foreign invaders (including viruses and bacteria).4 Inflammation is often characterized by redness, swelling, warmth and even pain.4
And then there’s fever…
Fever is another indication your body gives you that something is wrong. Body temperature is usually 37°C,5 but that increases when your body is fighting a bacterial infection, a virus or inflammation.5
For an adult, a fever may be uncomfortable, but usually isn’t a cause for concern unless it reaches 39,4°C or higher.5 Because fevers in infants and small children could be serious, it’s advisable to seek medical assistance in such cases.⁵
pain and inflammation
There are alternative options besides medicine to help with pain – try some (or all) of the following:
• Research has shown that regular exercise can diminish pain in the long term by improving muscle tone, strength, and flexibility.6 Exercise may also cause a release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.6
• Relaxation techniques – such as meditation or yoga – have been shown to reduce stress related pain when practiced regularly.6
• Massage can reduce stress and relieve tension by enhancing blood flow.6
• Apply ice to fresh injuries – it’s great for calming down damaged tissues that are inflamed, red, hot and swollen.7
• Apply heat to stiff, aching muscles.7
• A diet rich in omega acids and antioxidants helps keep inflammation down – eat plenty of fish, nuts and fresh fruit and vegetables.8
Simple pain relievers – like paracetamol – treat mild to moderate pain and reduce fever.9 Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also reduce fever and relieve pain, but only NSAIDs can also reduce inflammation.
As a result, they can be used for everything from a mild toothache or headache to cramps. NSAIDs work by blocking enzymes in the body that help make the chemicals that signal pain. When these enzymes are blocked, you feel less pain.10
How we experience pain and the amount of relief we get from NSAIDs varies from person to person. When choosing pain relief medication, it’s important to take the lowest dose that works for you and to take it as directed. And, if your pain continues for more than 10 days or isn’t controlled by the over-the-counter NSAID, it is a good idea to consult your doctor.10
1. N2 Analgesics Class IMS Data April 2017.
2. Markman J, Narasimhan, SK. Overview of Pain. [Online] [Accessed 26 Jul 2017]; Available from: http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/pain/overview-of-pain.
3. Understanding pain. [Online] 26 Jul 2016 [Accessed 26 Jul 2017]; Available from:
4. What Is Inflammation? [Online] 1 Sep 2016 [Accessed 26 Jul 2017]; Available from: http://www.webmd.com/arthritis/about-inflammation#1.
5. Fever. [Online] 29 May 2014 [Accessed 26 Jul 2017]; Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fever/symptoms-causes/syc-20352759
6. Pain Management: Treatment and care. [Online] [Accessed 26 Jul 2017]; Available from: http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/painmanagement-treatment-care.
7. The Great Ice vs Heat Confusion Debacle. [Online] 18 Apr 2017 [Accessed 26 Jul 2017]; Available from: https://www.painscience.com/articles/ice-heat-confusion.php.
8. Krans B, Kinman T. Foods That Reduce Inflammation. [Online] 10 Mar 2015 [Accessed 26 Jul 2017]; Available from: http://www.healthline.com/health/rheumatoid-arthritis/foods-that-reduce-inflammation#tips1.
9. Your Guide to Over-the-Counter Pain Relief: Understanding Acetaminophen. [Online] 16 Sep 2011 [Accessed 26 Jul 2017]; Available from:
10. Your Guide to Over-the-Counter Pain Relief: Understanding NSAIDs. for Pain Relief: Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Naproxen. [Online] 18 Jun 2013 [Accessed 26 Jul 2017;] Available from: http://www.webmd.com/drug-medication/otc-pain-relief-10/pain-relievers-nsaids.
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