There are few things that will get your attention as fast as pain. We will do just about anything to avoid it, and once we have it, we’ll do just about anything to get rid of it. We have medications specifically designed to reduce pain, procedures to deaden pain, and even an entire specialty within medicine, called pain management, dedicated to helping people manage their pain.
The problem is that pain itself is not a condition. Pain is merely a built-in alarm system letting you know something is wrong. Covering up the pain, without correcting the underlying cause of the pain, can be catastrophic.
Imagine waking to the blaring noise of a smoke detector, jumping out of bed, running to the detector, turning it off, and going back to bed. A few minutes later, the alarm sounds again. This time you jump out of bed, run to the smoke detector, turn it off, and take out the batteries. Is the problem solved? That depends on what the goal is.
If your goal was to silence the alarm, then you have succeeded. That smoke detector will not make another sound. However, the alarm indicates that there is smoke, and where there is smoke, there is likely a fire. The whole point of having the smoke detector is to protect you from the damaging, and often life-threatening, effects of a fire. If your goal is to remain safe and protected, disabling the smoke detector has done nothing but put you at greater risk. Sure, you might get a little bit more sleep, but the CAUSE of alarm, the fire, will rage on and ultimately kill you.
If you have pain, the idea of having less pain, or no pain at all, is exciting. I would like you to think beyond pain. When a new patient comes in to our office with complaints of pain, whether it’s lower back pain, neck pain, headaches, or whatever, I often explain to them that if all I was worried about was reducing their pain I would send them to their medical doctor or the emergency room. They could get pain pills and shots that will reduce the pain. I’m not interested in the pain nearly as much as I am about what is causing the pain.
When you go to the dentist with severe pain in your mouth how much time do they spend on discussing the pain? None! They don’t ask the type of pain, and they don’t ask you to rate the pain on a scale of one to ten. They tell you to sit back and open wide. They then go to work to find the source of the pain. The pain means very little to them because a problem in your tooth can cause a variety of types and intensities of pain. Tooth decay is tooth decay, and can be present with massive, sharp, shooting pain, or absolutely no pain at all. The bottom line is that the tooth needs to be corrected.
What makes things worse is that most of your health insurance coverage revolves around pain. They will pay to get you out of pain (most don’t even do that anymore until you meet a large out-of-pocket deductible), but once that pain is gone, treatment is often deemed unnecessary. It has become your personal responsibility to actively seek care that goes beyond just pain relief and to pay out of your pocket for it.
My whole point here is that pain is just the tip of the iceberg. It is something that the body uses to alert you that something is wrong, and you need to act upon it. Taking pain medicine will never correct your health problems. It will manage the pain, but allow the underlying cause to worsen over time.
Relying on pain alone to determine whether or not you are healthy is a terrible way to go about staying well. Think about that tooth decay. It starts as a cavity long before pain is ever felt.
Eighty-five percent of the patients we see every day are pain-free. Symptoms may have brought them into our office, but getting fully well, and staying well, means taking care of yourself even if pain is not present. If all you’re concerned about is aches and pains, keep taking the medication and getting the shots. If your interested in being fully well, start addressing the cause.