A Nation in Pain
Author: Performance Health International Ltd.
Date: Mar 2019
In a report which looked into the prevalence of chronic pain in the UK, it was estimated that one-third to one-half of the UK’s population is affected by chronic pain issues and that this number will increase as the population gets older (Fayaz A, Croft P, Langford RM, et al).
Chronic pain is a debilitating, long term condition which can arise from long term health problems such as arthritis, back problems or neck pain. For those affected, living with chronic pain can have a significant impact on their quality of life – affecting sleep patterns, the ability to work and pursue leisure activities.
Chronic pain is not just a physical response whereby we feel pain, but a complex interplay between the body and the mind. The mind is significant in affecting how we process pain and the emotional impact of pain can have a knock on effect on how we process further pain, growing into what can feel like an intolerable, vicious cycle.
Nerve cells regulate our perception of pain by carrying information from receptors found in the skin and throughout the body, to the spinal cord, before being sent forth to the brain for processing. The brain then interprets these signals and the body reacts to this stimuli in the form of pain.
The increasing use of prescription opioids to relieve this pain is posing a threat to public health. According to a recent BBC report, around 28.3 million opioids were prescribed by GP’s in 2017, the equivalent of 2,700 prescriptions an hour (Rhodes, 2018).
Continuous use of opioids can lead to various adverse health complications which in themselves can be debilitating. Such conditions could be:
Gatric issues such as stomach ulcers and constipation
A weakened immune system
Hormone imbalance: Levels of testosterone or oestrogen are often lowered by the use of opioids which can lead to erectile dysfunction, irregular menstruation, weight gain and depression.
Hyperalgesia: It may seem ironic, but whilst opiates are, in the first instance, used to block feelings of pain, continued usage can lead not only to increased sensitivity to pain, but even non-painful stimulus can become painful.
However, there are other alternatives to pain management that do not have the same health implications associated with sustained opioid usage. Using cold therapy as an alternative or as a break from pain killers can have significant benefits.
Cold Therapy Overview
Cold therapy is also referred to as “cryotherapy”. Cryotherapy as it relates to Biofreeze, is defined as the use of localised cold for treatment of a musculoskeletal condition. Modalities include physically cooling the site of pain with the use of ice and evaporative cooling through topical agents.
Thermal receptors in the skin and blood vessels are activated when cold stimulus is applied. Cold therapy can be used to override pain signals before they are sent to the brain, via the spinal cord, for processing. These pain signals are thought to pass through ‘gates’ in the spinal cord on their way to being perceived as pain by the brain. The “Gate Control Theory” suggests that topical pain relief products block pain signals from passing these ‘gates’ leading to the brain. The user instead feels a cooling sensation.
There is often confusion around whether the application of hot or cold is appropriate treatment for pain and injury.
How to alleviate Chronic Pain
In addition to topical pain relief, there are other ways to help improve symptoms and indeed prevent the onset of these symptoms in the first place.
- Seek help early: When you have an injury, prompt care from professionals such as physiotherapists, chiropractors or osteopaths can help treat injuries and relieve symptoms.
- Education: Understanding interactions between the body, brain and nerves in processing pain can help in managing it. Furthermore, everyone experiences pain differently. Gaining an understanding of the various treatment options available from your GP or specialist pain nurse will enable you to develop a pain management plan which sets goals and tracks your progress to recovery.
- Keep active: Alongside topical pain relief, maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle can mitigate the effects of chronic pain issues. Movement and exercise is shown to be instrumental in improving patient outcomes in terms of function and pain for people suffering with musculoskeletal pain (Kroll, 2015).
- Be mindful: Scientists now know that pain doesn’t manifest itself in bodily tissues. The existence of pain is based on our brain’s interpretation of signals from the body as ‘painful’ .This means our perception of pain can be influenced in part by our emotional state. Anxiety or depression can exacerbate chronic pain issues; therefore, addressing any psychosocial concerns can have a positive impact on your levels of pain.
For fast acting, long lasting and targeted pain relief, trust Biofreeze. Whether it’s an overworked muscle, a chronically achy back or the fitful discomfort of arthritis, Biofreeze topical pain relief has a range of products designed to cool the pain and enhance convenience and comfort of application to different parts of the body.
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Fayaz A, Croft P, Langford RM, et al. Prevalence of chronic pain in the UK: a systematic review and meta-analysis of population studies BMJ Open 2016;6:e010364. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010364
Kroll, H. (2015). Exercise Therapy for Chronic Pain. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 263-281.
Rhodes, D. (2018, March 15th). NHS Accused of fuelling rise in opioid addiction. Retrieved from BBC News: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-43304375
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Last revised: 28 March 2019
Next review: 4 April 2020