Some physician anesthesiologists specialize in pain medicine. If you suffer from chronic pain, the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) recommends you see a physician who has received extensive training in the safe administration and management of pain medication and alternative treatments.
View ASA's Choosing Wisely® list on pain medicine.
What is Chronic Pain?
Most pain is acute, or temporary. The pain you feel after stubbing your toe or having surgery hurts, but eventually it goes away. In some cases, acute pain can become chronic, meaning it lasts three months or more. For example, if surgical pain isn’t treated correctly, the nerves can become hypersensitive to stimuli causing pain, which can become chronic.
Other common causes of chronic pain are:
- back and neck injury
- migraine headache
- phantom limb pain (experienced by those who have had a leg or other limb amputated)
Chronic pain is common, affecting about 100 million people, according to the Institute of Medicine. It can take over your life, preventing you from getting good sleep, eating properly, being active and fully enjoying activities and time with your family. Thankfully, help is available.
Doctors who specialize in treating pain, such as physician anesthesiologists, have the expertise to diagnose and treat chronic pain. Pain treatments vary depending on the person and type of pain. Pain treatment is complex and can cause more harm than good if it is not provided by a skilled pain specialist such as a physician anesthesiologist, who has the training and expertise to diagnose and treat each individual patient safely and effectively.
Why See a Pain Specialist?
Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help alleviate headaches and occasional aches and pains. But for ongoing, chronic pain, it’s important to see a pain specialist, such as a physician anesthesiologist, who has received formal, extensive training in pain medicine to diagnose and treat pain.
In addition to completing four years of medical school and four years of training in anesthesiology and pain medicine, physician anesthesiologists who specialize in pain undergo an additional year of training to become an expert in treating chronic pain. This expertise is essential since the spine and nerves that register pain are delicate and everyone’s anatomy and pain tolerance is different. In addition, pain medications are strong and can be harmful if not administered by a physician with appropriate training.
The pain specialist will work with you and any other physicians who are treating you, such as your primary care physician, surgeon or oncologist. While other physicians manage and treat your conditions (such as cancer or arthritis), the pain specialist is in charge of diagnosing and treating your pain.
Here are some things a pain specialist may do to best diagnose and treat your pain:
- Review your medical records, x-rays and other images
- Perform a complete physical exam
- Ask you to describe your pain in detail, explaining where it hurts, how long it has been hurting and what makes the pain feel better or worse
- Have you fill out a detailed questionnaire to help determine the impact your pain is having on your life, and exactly how it is interfering with your daily activities
- Order tests
Depending on your pain and other conditions, the pain specialist may prescribe treatment ranging from injections or nerve blocks to physical therapy, acupuncture or electrical stimulation.
Please safely store and dispose of prescription medicines to ensure they are only accessible to those prescribed the medications to address chronic pain by properly trained physicians.