If you get headaches or niggling aches and pains often, then you’ve probably taken your fair share of paracetamol or aspirin. Swallowing these tablets is easy and they often seem to work like magic, don’t they?
But, because they’re so common, we don’t often give much thought to how these pain killers actually work, or what kind of side effects they could be having on our bodies. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Pain killers temporarily cover up pain but they don’t make the underlying cause disappear.
This brochure has been written as a practical guide to using pain killers. It explains how your body feels pain and reacts to painkillers. It’ll help you find out which ones are right for your type of pain and suggest alternative ways to prevent and manage pain.
Types of pain
We usually feel pain in one of two ways:
- Acute pain – This is short-term pain, which can be quite severe, lasting up to a few days. Examples of acute pain include headaches, burns or sprains.
- Chronic pain – This is pain that lasts for longer periods of time and is usually less severe than acute pain. Chronic pain could come and go or just be a constant dull ache. Examples of chronic pain include back pain, arthritis, and pain from cancer.
How do we feel pain?
The sensation of pain is relayed by pain receptors from the site of injury and passed along nerves to our brain for interpretation. Some parts of our body have more pain receptors than others. For example, the skin is packed with receptors which give specific information on the exact location and type of pain.
There are a lot less receptors in the gastrointestinal tract. That’s why it’s harder to pinpoint the exact location of a stomach ache. Pain receptors are attached to two main types of nerves – one that relays messages quickly (which you feel as a sharp, acute pain) and the other that relays messages slowly (which you feel as a dull, throbbing pain).