Pain management, or pain medicine, is a growing medical specialty dedicated to treating acute, sub-acute, and chronic pain. The goal of pain medicine is to improve quality of life and help patients return to everyday activities, ideally without surgery.
A pain management physician is often part of a team of medical professionals, such as the patient’s referring physician, physical and physical therapists, orthopedists, and chiropractic doctors.
Pain is generally classified as being acute or chronic. Acute pain begins quickly or suddenly and may be severe. However, acute pain lasts a short time (always under three to six months, sometimes just a few days or hours) and then goes away on its own. Chronic pain may be mild or severe and is characterized by its persistence. It has been defined as pain lasting longer than six months. Sub-acute pain is defined as being between acute and chronic. It is possible for acute pain to transition into chronic pain.
The pain specialist typically begins with a comprehensive medical history and then a physical and possibly neurological examination to determine the source of the pain. The pain specialist may ask if the pain was associated with a specific event, accident, or injury and if the pain has changed over time, for example, in terms of intensity, duration, associated symptoms (such as nausea or weakness), and what relieves or worsens it. Pain patients are encouraged to record pain symptoms and activities or events; such “pain diaries” can be of great help to a physician diagnosing a painful condition.
Pain is typically rated along a scale of zero to 10 with zero being no pain and 10 being the worst pain imaginable. A pain examination may involve pain rankings. The patient may be presented with a drawing of the front and back of the body and asked to indicate where he or she feels pain, rate it from zero to 10, and describe it (burning, dull, throbbing, sharp, tingling).
Depending on the type of pain, the pain specialist may also order a computed tomography (CT) scan, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, or other tests. Spinal injections may be required to obtain diagnostic information about the nerves associated with the pain. Many types of spinal injections provide valuable diagnostic information such as a Facet Joint and Medial Nerve Branch Block.
Pain specialists develop pain treatment programs tailored to meet the needs of each individual patients. Many pain specialists rely on combination therapy, that is, they recommend more than one type of treatment. Some patients are surprised to learn that a treatment that failed to provide relief before is effective when combined with one or more therapies.
Advances in pain medicine help thousands of pain patients every day. There are many ways to control pain and improve your quality of life.