Pain Medicine Doctor: Your Pain Relief & Pain Management Specialist
What is a pain medicine doctor?
A pain medicine doctor specializes in diagnosing, treating and managing pain and a range of painful disorders. A pain medicine doctor cares for the health needs of people with acute pain, chronic pain, and cancer pain. Because pain is complex and covers a wide spectrum of conditions, pain medicine doctors specialize in both the physical and mental aspects of pain management.
A pain medicine doctor typically:
- Evaluates your medical history and any test results you have
- Performs a physical exam
- Evaluates your answers to pain questionnaires
- Orders and interprets laboratory tests, imaging exams, neurologic exams, and muscle and nerve studies
- Diagnoses and treats herniated discs, spinal stenosis, fibromyalgia, cancer pain, migraine headaches, diabetic neuropathy, sports injuries, and burn pain
- Prescribes medications
- Orders physical therapy, electrical stimulation therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and counseling
- Performs therapeutic injections and nerve blocks
- Refers you to an appropriate surgeon if necessary
A pain medicine doctor may also be known as a pain medicine specialist, pain management doctor, or pain medicine physician.
How is chronic pain diagnosed?
The pain medicine specialist will work with you and any other physicians, such as your primary care physician, surgeon or oncologist, depending on the source of your pain. 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, how it interferes with your daily activities and what your treatment goals are.
- Order tests for diagnosis and treatment.
What are the options for treating chronic pain?
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 – Over-the-counter remedies, such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and more powerful drugs, such as opioids, may help ease your pain. Other medications can help too, including antidepressants, anti-seizure medications and steroids. Your physician may suggest a combination of medications to address different aspects of your pain. Because some of these medications, such as opioids, can be addictive, and other medications can cause side effects or interact with each other, it’s important that a qualified pain medicine specialist manages your medication plan.
- Physical therapy – Some types of pain respond well to physical therapy, specific exercises that help build up or stretch muscles and ease pain. Your pain medicine specialist can work with a physical therapist, orthopedic surgeon or physical medicine specialist to prescribe a physical therapy program.
- Medical procedures – A number of procedures can help with pain control, including nerve blocks, surgery and snipping overactive nerves. Extensive research is being done to develop high-tech techniques to block or minimize pain using radio waves, electrical currents or medication pumps.
- Complementary therapies – Some people find relief using biofeedback, relaxation, meditation, acupuncture, visualization or other alternative therapies.
- Lifestyle changes – You can help manage your pain by being as healthy as possible. If you smoke, get help so you can quit. Try to maintain a healthy weight to avoid the stress excess weight puts on painful hips and knees. Good nutrition is important, and exercising can often relieve or prevent pain.
Physical and occupational therapies
Physical and occupational therapies: Certified physical therapists and occupational therapists can play an important role in pain management through the various types of therapies and techniques they use with patients. Many occupational and physical therapists will use various forms of exercise to not only promote and restores normal function, but as a primary pain management tool as well. Physical therapy encompasses a wide range of treatments, such as massage, joint manipulation and dry needling. This means patients who do not respond to one method may find relief in another. Unlike some other methods of reducing pain, physical therapy aims not to stop pain quickly and temporarily, but over time and for the long term. This is why it is a good option for patients who want to avoid taking opioid medications.
Things Never to Say to Your Doctor About Chronic Pain.
So how to talk with your doctor seemed like a pretty good start to a blog series. Let’s start by talking about ways to improve your interactions with your physicians.
Here are 5 things never to say to your doctor about your chronic pain.
- Don’t tell your doc “I hurt all over”. If you tell me this my next questions are likely to be “do your teeth hurt? Or do you toe nails hurt? Or do your eyeballs hurt? When your doctor asks you “where does it hurt” try to be specific; pick the 1 or 2 most affected areas or the areas where the pain started.
- Don’t overstate you pain or overly embellish the description. Years ago, while working in an ER in St. Lucia, a farmer came in complaining of pain in his rectum “like a chicken bone stuck sideways up there”. Well, as it turned out he did. But most of the time try to use simple descriptors like ‘sharp’, stabbing’, ‘dull’, or ‘achy’.
- Don’t suggest the pain is the result of long ago events, such as “I was in an auto accident 30 years ago” or “I fell of the swings”. Right. And who did not fall off the swings when they were kids? There are some health professionals that reach back and attempt find a ‘reason’ for the pain. In my experience, these usually mislead from the true cause of pain and result in ineffective, unnecessary treatment. A previous event or injury can be significant if you had specific, continuous pain in a specific spot since the event. Other than that, these types of explanations tend to be counterproductive.
- Don’t say anything related to a work injury or auto accident, even if that is truly how the pain started. Sad but true, saying that your pain is from an auto accident or work injury will likely result in the doctor thinking that you are exaggerating your problems for “secondary gain”, like trying to get a big cash settlement.
- Don’t ask for a specific pain drug. Nothing says ‘drug seeker and abuser’ to your doctor faster than saying the only thing that works is Percocet. You are establishing a relationship and asking the doctor for help; not asking for a specific treatment plan. It is counterproductive to pronounce what she should give to you. Especially if that is opioids. Let the doctor come up with her own treatment plan. Yes, it is frustrating and may take longer, but in the end you will establish a good relationship and may get a better care.