Pain Management

What can I do to ease the pain from my broken ribs?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently broke a couple of ribs, and the pain is so bad I can hardly move. I can't sleep at night and I can't take a deep breath. I went to the doctor, but he said there isn't much he can do. I was surprised that he didn't even tape up my ribs. Is there anything I can do to help my ribs heal quicker and ease my discomfort?

DEAR READER: I understand why you ask the question. If you've ever fractured a bone, it has probably been put in a plaster cast or a splint. Keeping the broken parts of the bone from moving helps the bone heal and reduces the pain. The pain from a fracture generally occurs when the broken parts of the bone move. You know the old joke: "I'm OK, doc. It only hurts when I move."

How can I relieve my carpal tunnel discomfort without drugs or surgery?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have carpal tunnel syndrome. How can I relieve the discomfort without drugs or surgery?

DEAR READER: Carpal tunnel syndrome causes pain and discomfort in the wrist that can extend into the hand or forearm. It's often caused by activities that require constant use of the wrists. People who spend a lot of time at a computer keyboard, for example, pounding away at the keys, are more likely to experience it.

My doctor thinks the pain in the ball of my foot is caused by a Morton’s neuroma– How did I get this?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have pain in the ball of my foot. My doctor thinks it is caused by a Morton's neuroma. How did I get this, and what can I do about it?

DEAR READER: Morton's neuroma is a swelling of the nerve between the bones at the base of the toes in the ball of the foot. The pain it causes usually is in one spot. It can feel like you have a pebble in your shoe. Once the nerve starts to swell, the nearby bones and ligaments put pressure on the nerve, worsening the irritation and inflammation.

Should I go to a chiropractor for my lower back pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I suffer from low back pain, and I'm thinking of visiting a chiropractor for spinal manipulation treatments. What do you think?

DEAR READER: Spinal manipulation treatments are performed by chiropractors, osteopaths, and some massage and physical therapists. More than one of my patients has tried this treatment for back pain. They usually don't like to tell me about it, because they think I'll disapprove. Actually, I think there is evidence from scientific studies that chiropractic therapy for short-term or recurrent pain may be at least as effective as the treatments that I have to offer.

How do our brains process pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Let's say I stub my toe. How does my brain know where it hurts and how bad?

DEAR READER: Pain serves as the body's warning system. It alerts you to an injury or when something, such as an infection, has gone wrong inside your body. Pain can also help in healing. But in order to respond appropriately, your brain must identify the location and severity of your pain.

How can I describe my neck pain more accurately to help my doctor treat me?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My neck hurts, but my doctor hasn't been able to figure out why. I think if I had the words to better describe my pain, it might give him the clues he needs. Can you help?

DEAR READER: Many of my patients have trouble describing their discomfort beyond telling me "it hurts." Even a slightly more specific description can help me identify -- or exclude -- a particular diagnosis.

How can I manage osteoarthritis pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was just diagnosed with osteoarthritis. What can I do at home to manage my discomfort?

DEAR READER: Osteoarthritis is the most common kind of arthritis. Tens of millions of us in the United States have it, and it becomes more common as we get older. For some people it causes just occasional aches and pains. But for others, pain and stiffness can make it difficult to perform the daily tasks they've always taken for granted. Simple activities such as getting dressed or cooking dinner can become major efforts.

Can medication help with opioid addiction?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I started taking oxycodone for chronic back pain, but now I'm addicted to it. I've heard there may be medications that can help me quit.

DEAR READER: Oxycodone, like morphine, codeine and hydrocodone, is an opioid drug. Opioids are among the most powerful painkillers available. They can also produce a feeling of well-being and euphoria. Opioids affect the brain by attaching themselves to structures on brain cells called receptors. The opioid is like a key and the receptor is like a lock. When the key fits into the lock, the brain cell is affected.