If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, pain is in the body in the beholder – specifically your central nervous system. Just as one person might consider a painting a masterpiece while another might think the same painting is junk, some people have a high tolerance for pain while for others, everything hurts. While a thermometer can tell a doctor your temperature, only you can describe your pain to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.
That’s why a pain intensity scale like the one below is useful in helping you easily identify and describe what kind of pain you’re in. The scale is numbered from 0 to 10. The higher the number, the more pain you’re in. The chart goes from no pain to the worst possible pain.
For many of us, unless we’re at “10” – or “worst possible pain” – we ignore it. Don’t. Even the dullest, most mild pains can be a sign that something is wrong. With that in mind, the following are three common pains that, depending on their severity, could indicate a bigger medical issue that need attention.
Pain 1: Leg Cramp
You may think that dull, mild twinge in your leg (sometimes known as a “charley horse”) is caused by sleeping in an awkward position or dehydration, but it can also be the sign of something more serious, called deep vein thrombosis or DVT.
DVT is a condition in which a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins, usually in the legs. The clot then blocks the flow of blood, causing pain. That pain can become life-threatening when the clot gets loose and travels to your lungs, blocking the flow of oxygen to the body.
How do you know whether to see a doctor? If your leg pain is mild, say a 2 or 3 on the pain scale, there's a good chance it is just a cramp. If it starts climbing the scale to an intense pain, say a 5 or 6 or 7 or even higher, squeeze the area. If it hurts more, and if you’ve been traveling by plane recently or more sedentary than usual, go to a hospital to ensure it’s not DVT.
Pain 2: Lower-Back Pain
It’s easy to write off lower-back pain as the result of lifting something too heavy, but it could be a sign of kidney stones. Ordinarily, your kidneys act as your body’s filter – taking toxic waste out of your blood and expelling it in your urine. Sometimes, however, dehydration, bacteria, or hereditary factors cause those waste products to gather inside your kidneys, forming small, hard deposits that can lodge in the path to your bladder. As a result of the blockage, urine can back up, causing the kidney to become inflamed and fire pain signals.
Pinpointing the exact location of your pain and describing the intensity with the help of the pain scale is one of the best ways to get on the road to pain relief. Your kidneys are behind all of your organs, on either side of your spine. So if the pain you experience is near your “wing bone” below the ribs, it may be a sign of kidney stones; if the pain is lower down your spine, it’s likely lower back pain associated with improper lifting or other strain.
Pain 3: Painful Periods
Finally, abdominal pain during your period could mean more than normal cramping – it could be a sign of endometriosis. If pain during your period is consistently toward the higher numbers like 8, 9 or 10 on your pain intensity scale, you may be one of the 5 to 7 million women in America who suffer from this painful disorder.
Normally, every month, your uterus breaks down tissue, shedding its lining and creating cramping in the process. In endometriosis, some of your uterine tissue or “period lining” ends up where it shouldn’t, including the lining of your abdomen. Oddly enough, when that tissue travels outside your uterus, it still acts like it’s part of your period, so it still swells and cramps without your body being able to release it, creating awful pain.
Periods should become less painful as you age, not worse. So if you notice your periods getting worse, pay attention and schedule an appointment with your doctor.