Whether it’s dull or sharp, in your head or your back, pain can really interfere with your life. Sometimes it’s a symptom of an injury or disease, and sometimes the pain — like migraine headaches — is the condition itself.
Pain is also not uncommon. In fact, it’s just the opposite: More than 100 million Americans deal with pain that lasts for weeks to years, reports the Institute of Medicine. Millions more battle occasional pain.
Here’s a quick look at 10 leading types of pain, including their origins and treatment options.
1. Headache Pain
“Headaches affect all ages, races, and socioeconomic classes,” says Shaheda Quraishi, MD, a physiatrist at North Shore-LIJ’s Cushing Neuroscience Institute in Great Neck, New York. The four most common types of headaches are vascular — like a migraine; muscle contraction — also known as tension; traction — which results from conditions that affect the head, like tumors; and inflammatory. Treatments include medication, injections, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, massage, and acupuncture, Dr. Quraishi says.
2. Back Pain
If you haven’t experienced back pain, chances are good that you will. Back pain strikes eight of every 10 people at some point in their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Back pain can come on sharp and suddenly, or it can last for years as a dull ache. It can affect anywhere from just above your pelvis to the base of your neck. Treatments include exercise, weight loss, medication, injections, acupuncture, massage, and surgery, Quraishi says.
3. Neck Pain
“Neck pain typically increases with age,” says Brian Durkin, DO, director at the Center for Pain Management at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Stony Brook, New York. It often stems from such sources as osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease, but acute injuries — a car accident, for instance — can leave people with neck pain as well, he says. The NIH notes that neck pain can also come from bending over a desk for long periods of time, sleeping in an uncomfortable position, sprains, arthritis, infection, and — though it’s rare — cancer of the spine. Treatment depends on the cause and may include exercise to keep the neck mobile, changing your desk position, medication, massage, relaxation techniques, heat, or ice.
Fibromyalgia, a condition that involves widespread pain and tenderness at various points on the body, most often strikes women between the ages of 30 and 60, Dr. Durkin says. It can cause fatigue and interfere with a person’s daily activities, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. The condition can be difficult to treat and sometimes requires a team approach, Durkin says, adding that the best therapy for fibromyalgia is exercise. There are also three FDA-approved medications for fibromyalgia, and complementary treatments — like massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture — may help as well.
5. Muscle Pain
People often try to do things their muscles aren’t trained to do, says John Stamatos, MD, director of pain management at Syosset Hospital in Syosset, New York. “If I told you to go to the gym and lift weights for three hours straight, you’d look at me like I was nuts,” he says. “But most of us don’t think twice about going out and shoveling the driveway all afternoon.” To ease muscle pain from overuse, he recommends anti-inflammatory medications such as Aleve (naproxen), or Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen). Other remedies include muscle relaxants to loosen spasms, hot showers, stretching, and acupuncture.
Osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis caused by the breakdown of cartilage that normally keeps the bones in a joint — like your knee — from rubbing against each other. Most often it’s caused by the simple wear-and-tear brought on by use of the joint, but sports- or work-related injuries sometimes play a role as well. Over time, arthritic joints become painful and stiff. You’re more likely to develop osteoarthritis if you are older, obese, have a relative with osteoarthritis, or overuse a joint, according to the Arthritis Foundation. And, though there’s no cure for this most common type of arthritis, prescription and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications may ease pain, and physical therapy can help improve strength and mobility.
7. Pelvic Pain
Pelvic pain is more common in women but can affect men, too, Durkin says. Common causes include painful menstrual cramps, endometriosis, pain during ovulation (called mittelschmerz), and urinary tract infection. Uterine fibroids and weak or injured muscles, as well as connective tissues in the pelvis, are other possible sources. Treatments may include medication, hypnosis, heat, or physical therapy. In severe cases, doctors may recommend a hysterectomy.
8. Abdominal Pain
Dr. Stamatos says that abdominal pain often develops because people “ate the extra chicken wing they knew they shouldn’t have.” The best remedy for the resulting indigestion is to simply wait it out and skip that food the next time. Other common causes of abdominal pain include constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, food poisoning, and stomach viruses. In more serious cases, abdominal pain may result from appendicitis, aortic aneurysm, pancreatitis, kidney stones, or gall stones. Treatments vary widely, depending on the cause.
9. Ischemic Pain
“Ischemic pain results from collapsed blood vessels that carry blood throughout the body,” Stamatos says. A heart attack is one example. More commonly, ischemic pain takes the form of peripheral vascular disease (PVD), which causes achy pain in the legs is due to a lack of blood flow, he says. You’re more at risk for ischemic pain if you eat a poor diet high in cholesterol, are older than 50, are obese, or have diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Treatments include improving your diet, exercise, medications that improve blood flow, angioplasty, or vascular surgery.
10. Cancer Pain
When pain is cancer-related, its origin may be in the cancer itself, or it may stem from cancer treatments, like surgery, according to the American Cancer Society. In most cases, though, the discomfort comes from the tumor pushing on bones, nerves, or organs. Doctors usually treat cancer pain with medications, called analgesics. Other treatments may include radiation to shrink the tumor, surgery to remove the tumor, nerve blocks, or neurosurgery, which involves cutting nerves to relieve pain.