Chronic Pain Management
Chronic pain affects more than 100 million American adults, 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.
What is Chronic Pain?
Most pain is acute, or temporary, and eventually goes away. In some cases, acute pain can become chronic pain if it lasts three months or more. For example, if surgical pain isn’t treated correctly, the nerves can become hypersensitive and can go on to cause chronic pain. Other common causes of chronic pain are:
- Back and neck injury
- Fibromyalgia and musculoskeletal pain
- Migraine headache
- Phantom limb pain (experienced by those who have had a limb amputated)
Why See a Pain Medicine Specialist?
Pain treatment is complex and can cause more harm than good if it is not provided by a pain medicine specialist. Physician anesthesiologists complete four years of medical school, four years of training in anesthesiology and pain medicine, and an additional year of training to become experts in treating chronic pain. This expertise is essential to completing a comprehensive evaluation and making a diagnosis to guide treatment. If interventional therapies are considered, real expertise is critical since the spine and nerves that register pain are delicate and everyone’s anatomy may be different. In addition, many of the medications used to treat pain are strong or may interact with other medications and can be harmful if not administered by a physician with appropriate training.
The pain medicine specialist will work with you and any other physicians, such as your primary care physician, surgeon or oncologist. While other physicians manage and treat your medical conditions (such as arthritis or cancer), the pain medicine specialist is in charge of diagnosing and treating your pain.
Here are some things a pain medicine specialist may do:
- Review your medical records, X-rays and other images
- Perform a complete physical examination
- Ask you to describe your pain, explain where it hurts, how long it has hurt and what makes the pain feel better or worse
- Request the completion of a detailed questionnaire about the impact your pain is having on your life and how it interferes with your daily activities
- Order tests for diagnosis and treatment
Pain Treatment Options
If you’re one of the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain, talk to your pain medicine specialist about treatment options, including:
- Medication: From over-the-counter remedies, such as acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), to powerful drugs such as opioids, medications may help ease the pain. Other medications can help too, including antidepressants, anti-seizure medications and steroids. Your physician may suggest a combination of medications that can address different aspects of your pain.
- Physical therapy: As directed by a physical therapist, specific exercises can help you build up muscle and ease pain.
- Medical procedures: A number of procedures can help with pain control, from nerve blocks to surgery to snip overactive nerves.
- Complementary therapies: Some people find relief using biofeedback, relaxation, meditation, acupuncture, visualization or other alternative therapies.
- Lifestyle changes: You can help your pain management efforts by being as healthy as possible. For example, if you smoke, get help so you can stop. Try to maintain a healthy weight to avoid the stress excess weight puts on your joints, resulting in hip and knee pain. Good nutrition is important even if you’re trim, and exercising can often relieve or prevent pain.
Learn more about high-tech and comprehensive pain treatment therapies.