Bottom Line
Your Health
Plain talk about what ails you

Donna Carlson
Staff Writer

Pain is best interpreted as a warning signal. That nagging pain you may be ignoring could be a symptom of a condition that won’t go away on its own. 

The plain truth is this: Pain is subjective, complicated and cannot be measured accurately because each person feels pain differently. On a scale of one to 10, one person may think a stubbed toe hurts like a three and another like a nine. It’s all in the way our internal circuitry works.

Here are some pointers to help you sort out types of pain and what they mean.

Most headaches are benign in nature. They will not harm your health in the long run, but they can wreck a truckdriver’s day. Stress is one cause, so is sensitivity to noise, cold, heat and light – elements you are exposed to daily. Allergies, fatigue, hormonal imbalances and congestion, can also trigger a headache. A headache also can be caused by referred pain from any number of trigger points in your body.

If you find yourself on a never-ending merry-go-round of over-the-counter medications, see a physician. Your headache could be symptomatic of an illness somewhere else in your body. A good Internet source for information on headaches is The National Headaches Foundation at:

What about joint pain?
A joint is one of the first places you feel pain, because joints show stresses first, say researchers.

Do your joints ache when you crawl out of that sleeper bunk? Osteoarthritis is the common form of a disease that can make joints throb on cold mornings. Researchers now consider musculoskeletal defects, genetic defects, obesity, or injury and overuse when looking for a cause. Ignoring this type of joint pain can cause damage to the muscles and tendons around the joint. If left untreated, calcium deposits will form, causing more pain and possible disfigurement. Treatment: If the joint is inflamed, a physician will prescribe some type of anti-inflammatory drug and ice packs. Maintaining an ideal body weight helps put less stress on hips, knees and backs. Your doctor will likely take a history and ask you to modify the repetitive motions that caused the stress.

Bursitis is a condition that occurs often in the shoulder or knee of a person who does repetitive movements. This pad-like sac (bursae) cushions movement between the bones. Over work can cause inflammation and pain. Treatment: Physicians recommend immobilization, application of heat and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen.

Do one or both thumbs ache when you grip the wheel? Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) could be your problem. Common among truckdrivers, CTS is a painful nerve disorder caused by nerve compression in the wrist. Overuse is only one cause of CTS. It can also be linked to diabetes, arthritis and thyroid disease.

Improper lifting, hyperextending and sports-related injuries are another common cause of joint pain. If your knee feels painful, tight or makes a grinding sound after sitting in the truck for hours or going up and down stairs, you could have a condition called “runner’s knee.” The pain is caused by the kneecap not tracking or sliding along its groove properly. Treatment: Seek medical advice as x-rays may be needed to pinpoint the trouble. One medical source suggests making a conscious effort to walk with your toes pointed; it helps keep the knee in line. Or, your physician may prescribe a brace with a hole in the knee area for relief. Sometimes a shoe fitted with an orthotic device is prescribed.

Sore back: when to see your doctor
Backaches have a myriad of causes, but the majority of back problems are the result of excessive flexing of the spine, not spinal disc disease. The most common problems involve the over use of muscles and ligaments. Treat a sore muscle with ice packs for no more than 20 minutes followed by a heat source. Do this three to four times a day for the first 36-48 hours. For serious pulled muscles your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medication and rest. 

Other serious causes of backaches include: birth defects, poor posture and accidents. If you find yourself listing to one side when you walk you could have scoliosis, a painful curvature of the spine. Persons may not be aware of this condition until they approach middle age and find themselves walking hunched over. Treatment for this infirmity ranges from “do nothing” to fusion of discs and insertion of rods along the spine. 

One common cause of neck pain is whiplash caused by flexing the neck beyond its limits in an accident. If you experience violent pain when you move your neck or have muscle spasms along your spine, see a doctor. You could have a slipped, (herniated) disc. 

Discs may also herniate in other parts of the spine, most commonly the lower lumbar region. The herniation can cause pain to radiate down your leg. Depending on the results of the physical examination and the severity of your condition, your doctor may offer you two forms of treatment. One is “conservative therapy,” which includes bed rest, pain medication, and physiotherapy. If conservative therapy doesn’t bring relief, surgical procedures may be the next option.

Remember, unrelieved pain has an enormous psychological effect on you. Extreme discomfort can lead to irritability, loss of sleep and lack of activity. For chronic pain (pain that lasts for more than six months) that cannot be remedied by medical or chiropractic treatment, your physician may recommend a pain management specialist. Check your local phone directory’s Yellow Pages under pain management or type these words into your computer’s search engine. These pain centers use various methods such as relaxation techniques, exercise, nutrition, self-awareness and family involvement.