What Is a Pain Specialist?
Many patients are confused by the term pain specialist. Patients generally understand that cardiologists, gastroenterologists, or neurosurgeons are physicians who concentrate their care on a specific area of the body or one of the bodys systems. Pain specialists are also physicians with specialty or fellowship training who concentrate on the care of patients with various painful conditions.
Pain is, unfortunately, the end result of many different conditions (such as arthritis, nerve damage, spinal injury). These underlying conditions are often treated by several different types of physicians already (such as rheumatologists treating patients with arthritis). How does the approach of a pain specialist differ?
Pain specialists concentrate on the cause of pain, its impact on a patients life, and specific measures to eliminate pain.
Neck and back injuries are the most common. Patients have often suffered for months or even years before their first visit to a pain specialist. In fact, published data indicates that patients in pain have already seen (on average) seven doctors (such as internists, neurologists and surgeons) before consulting a pain specialist. As the field of pain management becomes better known and more practitioners become available, patients will hopefully choose to see a pain specialist much earlier in the course of their condition. As a rule of thumb, if a patients pain and suffering are not being adequately treated by their general practitioner, they should request a referral to or seek out a pain specialist.
Upon arrival to a pain specialist, as at other doctors offices, your physician will review your history, perform a detailed physical, and examine all imaging studies (such as an MRI). Pain specialists then concentrate on the impact of pain on your life and ways to reduce or even eliminate suffering. Pain specialists rely on the most modern technologies as well as often overlooked techniques to help their patients.
A simple disc herniation (an out-of-place disc that puts pressure on nerves of the spine, causing arm or leg pain) may be cured by a steroid injection under X-ray guidance. For three out of four patients, surgery can be avoided by a short treatment series. Some patients with back pain caused by arthritic joints of the spine (called facet joints) can reduce or eliminate their pain for months or longer through another office based procedure called a facet rhizotomy. Other patients may require even more advanced therapies, such as implanted spinal medication pumps or electrical stimulators (called spinal cord stimulators). These implanted devices are usually reserved for patients with few other treatment options, but can offer hope where none was available before.
Not every patient requires these advanced therapies. Numerous treatment options exist. From medication management to acupuncture, from counseling to chiropractics, your pain specialist coordinates care with numerous doctors and providers. The goal is simple to improve your quality of life through reductions in or elimination of pain.
So, if you, a family member, or a friend has been suffering, a pain specialist is there to help.