Navigating Chronic Pain: What You Need to Know about Pain Management Specialists
Everyone feels pain at some point. Pain that lasts a short time and goes away when you heal is called acute pain. On the contrary, pain that has persisted for months or years is called chronic pain. We see patients all the time who have spent months or even years trying home remedies, visiting their primary care doctor and even specialist, but still haven’t found relief.
Pain management doctors focus on helping treat chronic pain symptoms and are often considered the last resort when other pain relief options have failed. At Vitality Integrative Wellness, we offer alternative therapies that are often effective when everything else has come up short. However, if you’ve tried everything and still haven’t gotten relief, a pain management specialist may be an option to explore. That said, there are some essential questions to ask before you get started with a pain management doctor.
What is your Background and Experience in Pain Management?
Currently, there are no established standards for the different types of physicians that must be included in pain management, so treatment offerings will vary from clinic to clinic.
To qualify as a pain management specialist in the eyes of the American Board of Medical Specialties, a healthcare provider should have completed additional training and credentialing in pain medicine and be an MD with board certification in at least one of the following specialties:
- Physical rehabilitation
- Psychiatry and neurology.
You can check the American Board of Medical Specialties website to ensure your physician is board certified.
What can I expect on my first visit to a pain clinic?
As a first-time patient in a pain management clinic, it can be overwhelming. Knowing what to expect can be helpful. You might experience the following:
- Diagnostic Tests
- Referral to other medical specialists
- Interventional treatments
- Physical Therapy
- Alternative medicine options as a complement to other treatments
At the first visit, having a pain journal and being aware of your pain patterns is helpful. In your pain journal, record what the pain feels like, how often you feel the pain, and whether there are any other symptoms when you feel the pain.
Have you seen this before in other patients?
It can be reassuring to know that your doctor has successfully treated other patients with the same medical issues can be reassuring. They can share treatments that often help and educate you on the condition. You may also find out if there are any support groups to help you manage your situation.
What are my treatment options?
There are multiple methods of treating chronic pain. You need to know the pros and cons of each method and what your pain management doctor’s philosophy on pain management is.
- First-line treatment from your pain management doctor often involves medications like anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. Other options are using numbing agents or TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators) units.
- Treatments can involve using heat or chemical agents applied directly to the nerve to stop pain signals. Another option is an injection of lubricating fluid into the joints. These types of treatments can be effective, especially for arthritis, but come with risks and issues longterm. At this stage, the physician may prescribe strong medication.
- Finally, treatments may involve using a pain pump to relieve pain at the spinal cord level. Regenerative medicine and other alternative medical treatments are other options at this stage. Vitality has provided regenerative medicine and other alternatives to surgery and pharmaceutical pain relievers to clients for over 20 years.
Over the past several years, pain management has moved away from prescribing opiate medication because people addicted to this type of medication need more sophisticated help than a pain management clinic can provide.
Who else will be involved in my care?
Often the best option for treating chronic pain is a multidisciplinary approach. This refers to the teamwork of several different specialists working together to treat the condition. Some of the more common specialists that work with your physician can be neurologists, orthopedists, rheumatologists, and surgeons. You want to look for, at the very least, a pain management clinic that provides access to a physical rehabilitation specialist and mental health specialist.
Are there any red flags with this type of pain?
Certain kinds of pain may be associated with a more serious health problem. Pain that has increased in intensity over a short period of time may warrant a trip to the emergency room. It’s important to remind the physician to discuss the risks of your pain condition with you and what indicates a more severe problem.
Will I be completely free of any chronic pain?
Pain management aims to minimize chronic pain rather than eliminate it. Often it is not possible to completely cure the causes of chronic pain with this type of treatment. Other goals are to improve function in your activities and to improve your quality of life.
What can I do in the way of self-care and treatment?
While your chronic pain may be something you must learn to live with long-term, taking an active role in your self-care can make chronic pain more manageable. Self-care options could include:
- More physical activity
- Weight loss
- Regular sleep patterns
- Improving your diet
Navigating chronic pain can be challenging, but seeking the right help can make a significant difference in managing your condition. By asking the right questions and being prepared for your initial visit, you can find a physician who understands your specific needs and specializes in treating your pain.