Pain: relief thanks to modern treatment methods

The statistics are shocking: according to recent studies, there are around 1 million people in Germany and about 200,000 in Switzerland who suffer from such severe pain that they have considered taking their own lives. This type of pain is mainly caused by wear- and tear-related changes and degenerative processes.

Worst affected is the spinal column, for example in the form of arthritis, or degenerative joint disease. This kind of pain is termed chronic pain. Unlike acute pain (protective pain), which transmits warning signals to the brain about physical problems and which may subside relatively quickly with appropriate treatment, chronic pain persists for at least three months and causes changes in the area of the spinal cord. These changes occur because the nerve cells have been sending a pain message to the brain for so long that it becomes imprinted on it. It forms a kind of “pain memory.” As a result, the nerve cells react with excessive sensitivity to the slightest stimulus such as contact.

What type of pain can one treat by oneself?

Pain that appears suddenly, is not too severe and/or whose cause is clearly identifiable and which goes away after a short time. The type of pain you get from lumbago or a slightly sprained ankle.

What is the best way to treat pain?

There is one quite simple method of treating acute pain: cold. This can be done by simply applying an ice pack to the affected area. Keeping still and putting your feet up can also help. For chronic pain, on the other hand, you need the opposite: heat.  Massage is also good. Another method of pain relief is to regularly but carefully exercise the affected parts of the body. However, in almost all cases the resort to strong drugs and expensive treatment methods is unavoidable. One of the latest methods is infiltration, which involves injecting drugs at the seat of the pain. If this succeeds in switching off the pain, the sensitive nerve endings at the point where the pain originates can then be sclerosed with electricity. This blocks conduction of the pain to the brain.

How long should one take non-prescription painkillers before consulting a doctor?

No longer than a week. Treating pain without a proper diagnosis is not only unwise and expensive, it can also be damaging to your health.

What can you do to prevent persistent pain turning into chronic pain?

Get a clear diagnosis as quickly as possible and/or find an effective treatment and start it right away.

What must you do if you suffer from chronic pain?

If your general practitioner and/or specialist cannot help, often the only option is to be referred to a specialist pain center. Here they can investigate the exact cause of the pain and which part of the body is triggering the pain. The pain can then be treated there under expert supervision (for example by sclerosing the nerve fibers).

What are the chances of success with modern treatment methods?

Specialist opinion varies, but it is estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of patients do experience significant pain relief. With some people, the pain disappears altogether. The effect depends on the symptoms and the previous history.