Archive for December, 2010

Alleviating Foot Pain

December 20, 2010

Pain can interfere with normal daily activity and can prevent us from enjoying life fully. However, pain is the body’s alarm system to alert us when something is wrong, and it is a normal response produced by the body.

How does pain work?
There are four major stages with which pain will begin in our body. The first is the actual stimulus, which starts the pain information pathway to the brain. The stimulus is usually negative and results in tissue damage. The damage can be a cut of the skin, a broken bone or a tear or crush of soft tissue.
During the transmission stage, this negative stimulus is converted by the nerves to an electrical signal. This information is then carried by nerves toward the brain.
Before the electrical information finally enters the brain, the body has a third step in the pain route, called modulation. The modulation step works like a gate, where the brain sorts out the various stimuli that the body receives and determines whether or not the signal is strong enough to be recognized.
Once the brain accepts the electrical signal and final process begins, which is the awareness of pain in the body.

What are the goals of treating pain?
The two main goals that a podiatrist wants to achieve in treating pain are to eliminate the source of the problem and also to treat the symptoms caused by the problem. In order to do so, the podiatrist will need to investigate the cause of the pain by first asking the patient a series of questions regarding the problem. Below is a series of questions that podiatrists commonly ask in order to find the source of the pain and how to better treat it. Patients should think about some of the answers to the following questions before and during the appointment in order to better assist the podiatrist in finding the source of the problem.

1. Where is the pain located?

2. How would you describe the pain?
There are different types of pain in the body. If the pain is tingling or burning, the problem is most probably associated with the nerve. Most likely, achy, dull, throbbing, or sharp pain, more often indicates more of a muscle or bone problem.

3. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most painful, what is your pain level?
Knowing the level intensity of the pain can help determine what type of medication to alleviate the pain. Stronger pain intensity may mean that a stronger strength of pain medication may be needed.

4. How long has the pain been occurring?
The duration of the pain can help the podiatrist determine whether the pain is acute, lasting for a few days to weeks, or chronic, which lasts for a period longer than 3 months. If the pain is acute, it may signify that there was trauma that occurred to the area. Chronic pain may indicate arthritic changes or overuse injuries of the foot.

5. Did you injure your foot or was there anything different that occurred before the pain?
Knowing the incidences before the occurrence of pain can help determine what structures in the foot are injured.

6. What makes the pain worse or better?

7. What treatments have you done to alleviate the pain?
Knowing what type of treatment a patient has tried helps the podiatrist know how to better treat the patient, especially in avoiding treatments that have already been tried. Additionally, if there may be two causes to the pain, it can help a podiatrist eliminate one of the two sources of the pain.

What are the common treatments for pain?
Aside from treating the source of the problem, the podiatrist may offer treatment that can alleviate pain.

1. Icing and compression. Increased swelling and inflammation to the foot caused by trauma can make the pain worse. Accordingly, icing and compression of the foot may be recommended.

2. Topical Anti-inflamatories: Botanical anti-inflammatories can also be used to reduce swelling and therefore reduce pain. Arnica is one of these topical plant products that can help. It comes from the Arnica Montana plant. It was discovered and used my native Americans before the arrival of Columbus and is still used successfully today

3. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (“NSAIDS”). NSAIDS are commonly prescribed to control inflammation and swelling. They are often recommended for mild or moderate pain level intensities. Caution must be taken when using “NSAIDS”. If the patient has a history of stomach ulcers this class of drugs can increase the chance of a gastric bleed. It is important for everyone taking this class of medicine to take the pill with food. If stomach discomfort occurs, it is best to change the medication.

4. Opioids. Opioids do not decrease inflammation. However, they do decrease the amounts of chemicals that need to be released to start the electrical signal for pain. This prevents pain signals from entering into the brain. Opioids are often recommended at higher pain level intensities. When using, opioids caution must be taken to avoid drug abuse.

5. Capsaicin. This is a topical cream or solution that is applied to the skin and recommended more for chronic pain. Capsaicin has chemicals that are made from chili peppers. It decreases the chemicals that are needed for the nerves to transmit pain signals to the brain. Caution must be taken to avoid eyes, mouth, and genital areas when using this medication because it causes a severe burning sensation.

6. Local anesthetics injections. This type of treatment directly affects the nerves and prevents the nerves from sending signals to the brain. Local injections, however, only produce temporary relief.

7. Steroid injections. This type of injection is given in combination with local anesthetics and is another form of treatment to decrease inflammation. Depending on the problem, this type of injection can alleviate pain anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.