What does a pain management doctor do?

A pain management doctor is a specialist who evaluates and diagnoses pain and devises a plan to treat it. Typically, these doctors have a background in neurology, anesthesiology, orthopedics, or physiatry. Pain management doctors spend their residency learning about different causes of pain, what symptoms it can manifest as, and an array of approaches to treat it, among other cases in their area of study. Then, they spend an additional fellowship year narrowing their focus and applying their previously acquired knowledge specifically to cases of pain management. Their goal is to improve your quality of life.

For some people, this means helping them get back to activities they enjoyed before pain got in the way. For others, it means optimizing their medication, ensuring that it is clinically-effective. Most people who suffer from chronic pain have tried techniques to help them cope, but need a specialist’s expertise to find the best treatment for their needs. Just like no one’s pain is exactly the same, not everyone has the same reasons for seeking a pain management doctor’s help.

When to consult a pain management doctor

Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell when pain has become a significant problem. If you are recovering from surgery, you might think that your pain qualifies as normal post-operative discomfort and that you need to give yourself more time to heal. If you suffer from a chronic condition, your pain may have gotten gradually worse over time so slowly that you do not notice how drastically it has affected your life.

One of the most obvious signs that it might be time to visit a specialist is if you are having trouble performing daily tasks. Many people also have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep due to pain. Talk to your primary care physician if you have been struggling with chronic pain. They will be able to tell you if consulting with a pain management doctor is in your best interest.

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is pain that persists past expected healing time or negatively impacts your quality of life. Injuries are the most common cause of chronic pain, but it can be caused by illnesses like cancer, fibromyalgia, or autoimmune disorders. People with chronic pain experience a variety of different sensations. Achiness, throbbing, burning, and stiffness are among the most common, but pain feels different to everyone. Pain management doctors are knowledgeable on how people experience pain, which is why they are usually the best to turn to for a diagnosis.

How do pain management doctors make a diagnosis?

In order to diagnose pain, pain management doctors need to gather as much information about your affliction as they can. They will ask many questions about the pain's location, frequency, and intensity. Pain management doctors will review your medical history, order scans and run tests to help determine how your musculoskeletal system is functioning and whether any undiagnosed metabolic disorders are contributing to the pain. Additionally, they need to know about other aspects of your life and health

Types of pain management

A pain management doctor’s treatment plan will differ from patient to patient depending on one’s reasons for seeking help. They could advise anything from physical therapy to a surgical procedure. Physical therapy is helpful for those who are recovering from an operation or an acute injury. In cases where chronic pain is caused by nerve disorders that affect the neck and back, nerve blocks or injections may be used. These procedures are meant to block nerve signals or alleviate pressure in the spine that causes pain.

Types of treatment plans

Your pain management doctor’s particular area of specialty will determine what type of treatment plan they will compose for you. For example, if you are referred to a physiatrist, they will use many different therapeutic techniques to help you find easier ways to manage your daily life, whereas a neurologist would be more likely to use nerve stimulators and other procedures to treat your pain.

At Capitol Pain Institute, our pain management physicians have a background in anesthesiology and physical medicine and rehabilitation. Depending on your needs and whether you prefer a conservative or aggressive treatment option, our treatment plans focus on physical therapy, mild medications or progressive options such as injections to provide relief more quickly. We want to work with you to create a comprehensive treatment plan that is right for your lifestyle.

Opioids for pain management

In recent years, a stigma has developed around the use of opioids for pain management, and not without reason. Opioids were originally advertised as a non-addictive cure for pain. Although twenty-first century studies have disproven this, opioids can still be very useful in treating pain if they are prescribed and used responsibly. Opioids are usually used in extreme circumstances, such as the first week or two after a severe injury or major surgery.

The vast majority of physicians today recognize the risk of opioid dependence and addiction and are able to communicate these dangers to their patients. Many doctors try to limit the amount of opioids that they prescribe and aim to implement alternative pain management techniques whenever possible. When pain management physicians do prescribe opioids, they have additional monitoring responsibilities which serve as an additional safety measure.

Some states even have laws that enforce this practice. If addiction runs in your family or you have a history of substance abuse issues, talk to your doctor about other options for pain management. If your doctor is not confident in their knowledge of alternative pain management, they can refer you to a pain management specialist.

What to expect during your first appointment

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At your first appointment with a pain management doctor, you will go over your medical history and discuss your symptoms and their effects on your wellbeing. This will give your doctor a better understanding of your goals and how they can help you to achieve them. Your pain management doctor will likely ask you to describe your pain (dull, stabbing, achy, etc.).

Be sure to mention details such as whether your pain gets better or worse during certain activities, the rate in which your pain has progressed, and the standard of living you hope to reach through working with a specialist. Your doctor will want to discuss your lifestyle, sleeping habits, and stress factors and do a physical examination. They may also run additional tests such as blood work or an MRI. This will help them to discern the origin of your pain and treat it effectively.

What to bring to your first appointment

It could be helpful to bring any scans that your primary care physician or surgeon has already done. If you have any notes from previous appointments, either from yourself or your doctor, bring those as well. You should also bring a list of any previous treatments you have tried as well. If you have a pain journal, you should bring that as will.

If you do not have a pain journal, it's a good idea to start one. Document details of your pain that may be easy to forget, such as moments when the sensation, severity, and persistence of your pain changes. Be sure to write down your level of discomfort on a scale from 1 to 10 every day. Looking back through the pain journal can help you and your pain management doctor uncover patterns that may have otherwise been unnoticed or overlooked.

What questions should you ask your pain management doctor?

If the source of your pain is not obvious or already diagnosed, the first thing you will probably want to know is what is causing it. Your pain management doctor should be able to tell you what the root cause of your pain is after studying your case. Once you get a diagnosis, your doctor will work with you to make a treatment plan that’s right for you.. Some treatment plans aim to cure pain, and others are intended to help people cope with pain. After you understand your diagnosis, you may want to know if there are any lifestyle changes you can make that would help you to manage your pain.

Could you benefit from avoiding certain foods? Should you exercise more or less? A pain management specialist will be able to tell you some tips that might not be common knowledge in other doctors’ fields of study.

How the pain management field is advancing

Techniques for pain management are being constantly refined by specialists who devote their careers to understanding pain, its causes, and its effects. If you are living with chronic pain, working with a pain management doctor to stay up to date on these practices can improve your quality of life.

While pain management may not be able to erase your pain, medicine and technology are always advancing and pain management is a way to get your life back and enjoy the things you used to love once again. If you are experiencing chronic pain, now is the time to see if a pain management doctor can help you.