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Pain glossary

Pain: An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.

Pain scale: A tool that allows patients to communicate their current level of pain. Pain scales usually include a range that represents the range of pain severity. Examples of pain scales include the visual analog scale(which uses a 10-cm line to indicate range of pain severity) and the numeric rating scale(eg, marked 0-10, where 0 is no pain and 10 is worst pain imaginable). Some scales use drawings of faces to represent pain intensity.

Paracetamol: Also called acetaminophen. Paracetamol is one of the most common analgesics and is used to treat fever. It does not reduce inflammation as much as NSAIDs. Paracetamol is available over the counter and is relatively free of dangerous side effects when used at the right dosages. It is also often used together with other pain medicines, and is sometimes available as part of a combination pill (for instance, paracetamol plus an opioid).

Pathologic pain: Pain resulting from abnormal functioning of the nervous system (consisting of the brain, spinal cord and nerves that connect to every part of the body). Sometimes it happens because of damage to nerves (neuropathic pain), but other times pain still exists without apparent damage or inflammation (dysfunctional pain). Examples of dysfunctional pain include pain from fibromyalgia, some headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.

Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA): A way of giving pain medicine where a patient can control how much medicine is given based on his/her pain level. The pump that dispenses the medicine is attached to an intravenous line already inserted in a patient’s vein, so successive doses do not need to be injected separately. In addition, the patient does not need to call for a nurse or caregiver to administer the medication. It enables the patient to feel more in control of their pain management and reduces nursing time. PCA is most commonly used in post-operative pain and is sometimes used in cancer pain.

Phantom pain: A kind of neuropathic pain. Phantom pain is an unpleasant painful sensation in the area of a surgically removed limb or part of the body.

Physical therapy: The use of exercises and physical activities to help condition muscles and restore strength and movement. Physical therapists use treatment methods, including electrical stimulation, hot packs, cold compresses, traction, deep-tissue massage and ultrasound, to relieve pain and reduce swelling.

Pilates: A method of body conditioning that focuses on the core postural muscles essential to spinal alignment, muscular flexibility and strength. By using spring-based equipment, the person uses their own body’s resistance to improve strength, circulation, posture and breathing, critical to decreasing pain and improving body awareness and muscular tone.

Postherpetic neuralgia: A type of neuropathic painthat occurs at the site of a previous attack of shingles. Postherpetic neuralgia may continue 3-6 months after the shingles rash has healed. Shingles is a condition caused by re-activation of the chicken pox (varicella zoster) virus, which lies inactive in the nerves following infection.