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Department of Family Medicine
Ouch! What Works When it Hurts.
University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Assistant Professor of Family Medicine
First Published: November 2000
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
- Remember when a kiss from your mother on your skinned knee was
what it took to be "all better?"
- Life is a little more complicated now. We have many different
kinds of pain--big pain, little pain, headache pain, back pain,
muscle pain. Everyone has some type of pain some time.
- You don't need to suffer from big pain--broken bones or post
operative pain--to hurt. The everyday kinds of aches and pains
that are part of life are more than enough for most people.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers are among the most widely used
drugs in the United States. Most people self-medicate the usual
aches and pains with common analgesic drugs, like aspirin,
acetaminophen, and ibuprofen.
- What kind of pain should send you to the doctor? Sara
Mackenzie, MD, UI Family Care, suggests a few warning signs: a
muscle or bone pain that doesn't resolve after one to two weeks,
pain that awakens you from sleep, or intense pain without a clear
- "A regular exercise routine can help with daily aches and
pains," she says. "Improving blood circulation and using joints
and muscles help keep your muscles and bones strong. Don't overdo
it with the same repetitive activity though, especially if you are
starting a new exercise."
- Pain medications vary, each having its own benefits and risks.
(As with all medications, consult your health care professional
prior to taking any medications or if you have questions about
possible side effects.)
- Acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol) is good at relieving pain like
headaches, muscle aches, and reducing fever. It does not reduce
inflammation. It is less irritating to the stomach and is
generally safer for children than aspirin or ibuprofen. Do not
take alcohol during treatment to avoid possible liver damage.
- Aspirin is good for relieving pain, reducing fevers, and
reducing inflammation caused by injury or arthritis. The most
significant side effect is the possibility of developing a peptic
ulcer and kidney disease. Aspirin and ibuprofen are blood
thinners. Aspirin should not be used by pregnant women except
under the supervision of your health care provider. (Aspirin has
been linked to Reye's Syndrome.)
- Ibuprofen (i.e., Advil or Motrin), naproxen (i.e., Aleve) and
other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often used
for relief of pain, especially menstrual pain, to reduce fever and
to help reduce inflammation and stiffness. It can be used as an
effective alternative to aspirin for the treatment of arthritis.
NSAIDs should be taken with meals or milk and should not be used
with aspirin, alcohol or steroids. NSAIDs should not be given to
children or pregnant women except under the supervision of your
health care provider.
- "Most aches and pains resolve on their own," says Mackenzie.
"The overuse of pain medication can be a major source of
problems--side effects and even chronic headaches can develop with
daily use of pain medications. You don't always need a quick fix
in the form of a pill for life's aches and pains."
- What is pain?
- Pain is the body's early warning system that something is
amiss. It could be heat from the stove, the cut of a knife, a
twisted ankle--anything that damages or threatens to damage your
body. Pain receptors send signals to your brain telling you of the
danger so you can take measures to protect yourself and/or prevent
further injury. These common types of pain generally go away as
your body heals.
- Pain is real. The person with the pain is the expert.
- Pain is subjective. What sends one person to the medicine
cabinet may send another to the doctor.
- Not all pain is alike and different types of pain require
- Most everyday pain can be relieved or made manageable. Living
with pain uses up a lot of energy that can be better used to fight
illness or maintain the activities of daily living.
- If you have a health-related question, or to make an
appointment, call UI Health Access - 800- 777-8442 or