For most people, pain is a fairly simple concept; it is an unpleasant sensation that should be stopped as soon as possible.  However, for medical professionals, pain is a much more complex topic that has developed into its own medical specialty.  Pain management specialists are physicians with advanced expertise in evaluating, diagnosing and treating pain in all of its forms.

What is pain?

Pain is much more complex than most people believe.  Although at its most basic, it is an injurious stimulus that prompts a pain impulse to the brain. That sensation travels through multiple neural gates where it can be influenced by other conditions. For example, pain is often muted when you are intensely concentrating on other tasks.

Getting your pain properly diagnosed

Even the basic mechanism of pain can be altered.  Many conditions like diabetic neuropathy or phantom limb pain are a result of damage to the neurons that transmit pain impulses. Without the proper pain management expertise, many of these conditions can be improperly diagnosed and treated.

Pain Management Specialist Training

Pain management specialists possess knowledge of many kinds of pain including acute, chronic, neuropathic and referred.  Due to their extensive training in pain clinics with a wide variety of pain patients, pain management specialists are much more adept at identifying the type of pain and potential causes. Unlike a general practitioner who has a limited understanding of the many types of pain conditions, a pain management specialist has the broad expertise to use the most appropriate diagnostic tools and recommend the most effective treatment options.

If your primary care physician is unable to determine the cause of your pain or how to mitigate the pain symptoms, they may refer you to a pain clinic.  There, you will see a pain management physician with at least one year of fellowship training in pain medicine and is board certified. Your primary care physician is unlikely to refer you to a pain specialist for a typical sports injury but may do so if you are suffering from chronic pain or pain related to cancer.

Pain management and the holistic approach

At the pain clinic, your evaluation will be conducted by a pain management specialist, but your treatment may be administered by a team of physicians and allied health professionals including chiropractors, wellness counselors or behavioral specialists. The pain specialist may coordinate the treatment program, but a holistic team approach allows each health specialist to apply their particular expertise to the case.

Non-Opioid Pain Management Techniques

Depending on the nature of the pain condition, you may be required to visit the pain clinic for months, years, or, in rare cases, indefinitely. During these visits, you may consult with various specialists and participate in therapies like acupuncture, massage, chiropractic sessions or physical therapy. Your physician will, of course, discuss your medication options, but fewer pain management specialists are recommending powerful and risky opioid drugs; in most cases, they will probably recommend commonly available pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Pain Management Procedures

In more extreme cases, your doctor may recommend a procedure to mitigate pain symptoms.  These may include nerve blocks, radiofrequency ablation, or spinal cord stimulation.  Typically, these are only considered if other therapies have proven ineffective.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

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