Board-certified pain management physician John Huffman, MD, has decades of experience helping patients who struggle with pain. At Interventional Pain and Regenerative Medicine Specialists in Arlington, Virginia, Dr. Huffman is committed to helping men and women in Northern Virginia resolve and manage their pain through our comprehensive pain and regenerative medicine services.
Identifying when pain is something you can live with and when it’s something that requires medical attention can be challenging. That's why we’ve compiled this helpful guide. Read on to learn more!
Your nervous system lets you know when something isn’t quite right by putting out a signal our brains interpret as pain. Pain is experienced differently by different people, and we all experience different types of pain throughout our life.
Sometimes pain feels sharp and stabbing, other times it might be dull and throbbing. Pain might be constant, or it can come and go. You might experience pain in one localized area of the body, or you could have generalized pain all over.
Here’s a closer look at the different types of pain, when it’s something you can live with, and when it’s time to get help.
Different types of pain
Pain comes in two main forms: acute and chronic.
Acute pain typically comes on suddenly and can be quite intense. It is generally short-lived and most often localized in one area or region of the body. Because it is typically triggered by a specific injury or illness, it usually resolves once this is treated.
Some causes of acute pain include:
- Broken bones or soft tissue injuries
- Burns or cuts
- Dental problems
- Surgery or other medical work
Chronic pain, on the other hand, is ongoing and can last weeks, months, or even years. It may have started as acute pain, but continues after the underlying cause is treated or resolved, or it may have no known injury or root cause. Frequently chronic pain leads to psycho-emotional issues, like depression or anxiety.
Chronic pain is associated with many different conditions, including:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Nerve pain
- Back pain
- Depression and other mental health issues
- Migraine and headache
- Previous injuries
When pain signals and emergency
Certain types of pain should be treated as an emergency and require immediate medical care. For example, pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest could signal a heart attack while severe abdominal pain accompanied by a fever or swelling and inflammation could be a sign of infection.
Most medical teams use a pain scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain at all and 10 being the worst pain imaginable. If you’re experiencing pain at a level seven or higher, it could be time to seek urgent medical attention.
If you’re experiencing chest pain or discomfort along with the other symptoms of heart attack (e.g., shortness of breath, fainting, nausea or vomiting, numbness, etc.), head to the ER.
When you can power through pain
If your pain is best described as a feeling of achiness or soreness, it’s probably due to mild inflammation in your muscles or tendons. When you exert yourself physically, your muscles develop microtears. As your rest, these tears repair and result in stronger muscles.
If you’re experiencing this type of pain, it’s probably okay to push through. In fact, movement and physical activity may even help resolve some of your soreness. If the pain persists, however, it’s a sign to back off.
When it’s time to seek medical attention
At Interventional Pain and Regenerative Medicine Specialists, we believe that any time you’re concerned about pain is a good time to seek help from a pain expert. There are times, however, when getting medical attention is more pressing.
When deciding whether to seek medical help for your pain, consider the source, severity, duration, and impact on your daily routine. If you’re not able to get out of bed due to pain, for example, it’s a good idea to come in for an evaluation. Pain that should be evaluated by a pain expert includes:
- Pain occurring in an area previously injured
- Pain occurring in an area previously treated by surgery
- Constant pain or pain that increases in severity
- Pain that doesn’t respond to at-home care (e.g., OTC pain relievers, ice, elevation, etc.)
- Pain that interferes with your ability to sleep, work, or carry out your daily routine
- Pain that interferes with your ability to move a body part(s)
- Sharp pain that appears when moving or exercising
- Pain that travels or radiates from the starting location
- Pain that lasts longer than expected after medical treatment or surgery
Tired of living with pain? The specialists at Interventional Pain and Regenerative Medicine Specialists can help! Contact our Northern Virginia office to schedule a visit or book online now!