Many of us have, over the years, become used to a certain level or regularity of one form of pain or another. You may be prone to occasional tension headaches, for example, or suffer from a dietary intolerance that results in stomach cramps. We recognise these pains when they arise, we generally know how to deal with them, and we’re not likely to even pay much heed to them as we go about our lives.
It’s when we have pain we can’t explain that things get trickier. If you wake up with a sharp pain in an area where you don’t normally get them, or a sudden onset of an unfamiliar ache, it can be worrying. Most of us know well enough what kinds of pain, in which areas, are associated with serious conditions, but if you can’t trace a reason for a pain that seems to pop up out of nowhere, then the uncertainty is liable to make us fill in the blanks for ourselves. That’s rarely a good thing. So if you have a rogue pain appear out of nowhere, the following advice is worth following.
Check the area for visible signs
Although you may already have thought to do this, the very first thing you should do when you can’t immediately attribute pain to an existing issue is look at the area that hurts. It’s not uncommon for any of us to bump a limb or another part of us into a surface while moving around. Indeed, it can happen while you’re asleep without waking you up. So if you look at the area and find a bruise, chances are you’ve found the culprit. Do keep an eye on the bruise – in some extreme circumstances, it may result from a more serious condition – but usually, it’s not a concern.
Pain may also result from a reaction to something hostile on the skin: a nettle or bee sting being obvious examples. It may be something less obvious, and given that we don’t know how many undiagnosed allergies are out there, you might simply be reacting to something unfamiliar. If there are no external signs of what is causing your pain, then it’s worth moving on to the next question(s).
What kind of pain is it, and when does it happen?
These questions really need to be asked together. If a pain is constant and grinding, it means something different from a pain that twinges every time you move the affected area. The former may well be something like tendinitis, an injury brought on by repetitive motion that irritates and inflames a tendon. It can be persistent, taking weeks to go away, and is usually best addressed by sessions with a physio who will address the source of the condition and how to remedy it. The latter is more likely to be a pulled muscle, which usually requires rest. Finally, if a body part hurts when it bears weight, it could be either of the above points or even a fracture, which will repair in time but needs to be checked by a doctor.
Pain in the head is often more elusive to trace. There are multiple different types of headache, and even more reasons why they occur. If the headache is dull and thudding, consider whether you have eaten properly or drunk enough water, as dehydration and low blood sugar can be at fault. Sitting or sleeping in an awkward position, or even tying your hair back in too tight a way can cause tension headaches, as can plain old stress. If headaches persist, however, see your doctor without delay. The cause will usually be perfectly benign, but time is of the essence.
Many of us associate chest pain with deeply concerning issues such as heart conditions. Again, there are innumerable far more prosaic reasons why you might have pain in your chest, but it is a good idea to be familiar with heart attack symptoms – even if only to rule them out as a cause.
Don’t leave room for doubt
The truth is that if a pain persists and you have no explanation for it, you should see a doctor as soon as possible because it’s a matter of placing the upside against the downside. The worst downside of seeing a doctor for something completely benign and commonplace is some mild embarrassment, but the upside could be detecting something that could have had serious repercussions if left alone. Indeed, even if you feel you can explain a pain, you should see a doctor if it persists beyond 24 hours. They can take steps to prevent it getting worse or potentially becoming chronic.