Living with Chronic Pain
Building a Pain Management Team
Treating chronic pain can be complicated. The causes of chronic pain are varied and many treatments are available; oftentimes, it can be difficult to make sense of it all. The most effective way to manage chronic pain is to build a competent, educated, compassionate pain management team. A highly skilled pain management team can help people manage their chronic pain; the team consists of health care professionals from various medical specialties.
Depending on the origin of chronic pain, the following medical professionals are valuable assets on an effective pain management team:
General practitioners are primary health care providers. They are typically the first point of contact when an individual experiences chronic pain. General practitioners examine the individual, order appropriate tests, prescribe medications/treatments and make referrals to the appropriate specialists or surgeons depending on the severity and cause of pain.
Specialists in different medical fields can help with chronic pain. A specialist is usually chosen depending on where the pain originated.
The following specialists often receive specialized training in pain management:
- Anesthesiologists are often thought of as the doctors who put people “under” during surgery; however, anesthesiologists are valued pain management specialists.
- Physiatrists are physicians that help people manage their chronic pain with a rehabilitation approach. After examining an individual and determining the cause of pain, a physiatrist develops a long-term pain management plan.
- Neurologists treat conditions of the nervous system (spinal cord, nerves, and brain). Because chronic pain often originates in the nervous system, neurologists are specially trained to manage pain as well as treating the root cause of the pain through surgery or other therapies.
- Orthopedists treat conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system (bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves) with physical therapy or surgery. Orthopedists are also specially trained in pain management.
- Rheumatologists treat autoimmune and joint conditions.
- Psychiatrists and psychologists can help individuals with chronic pain because it often affects emotional and mental health. Individuals are taught coping mechanisms and cognitive tools to reduce chronic pain severity. Cognitive therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), have proven effective in helping people living with chronic pain and are often a part of chronic pain treatment.
- Pain specialists are trained in diagnosing, managing and treating pain.
Other Medical Specialists
Individuals who experience pain from cancer or organ diseases may require the expertise of a radiation oncologist, surgical oncologist or medical oncologist.
Nurses are invaluable resources for chronic pain care.
Allied Health Professionals
- Physiotherapists are responsible for providing relief in the form of massage or joint and muscle manipulation. They help people focus on posture and physical therapy exercises to relieve pain. Other techniques are also used, including but not limited to, heat, ultrasound and traction.
- Rehabilitation counselors assist with obtaining and/or retaining employment to help individuals ease back into a regular routine.
- Occupational therapists help people make adaptations to their daily lives to deal more effectively with their chronic pain.
Case managers help health care providers coordinate their efforts. They may also help with medical billing issues and finding treatment providers.
Other Valuable Professionals
Each chronic pain case is unique, and other specialists who may assist in chronic pain care include family and vocational counselors, dietitians, social workers, pharmacists, and other support staff.
Establishing a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals is an invaluable tool for the treatment of chronic pain.