Chronic Pain

Knowing When You Have the Right Pain Specialist

Source: Pain Pathways
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Pain management can be complicated, for people in pain and their support network. Since so much of chronic pain relief changes from patient to patient, it’s hard to assess whether it’s working, both the treatments and the team. Have you found the right pain specialist for you? Read on to find out.

Roles of Pain Specialists

There are several different types of medical professionals involved in pain management. You may see any of the following pain specialists:

  • Primary care physician - You’ll likely contact your PCP first for pain. If your pain is complicated or lasts a long time, they may refer you on to someone more specialized.
     
  • Physiatrist - These doctors specialize in chronic pain treatment and may act as the leader of your chronic pain care team.
     
  • Surgeon - If you need surgery to fix the cause of your chronic pain, you’ll be referred to a surgeon.
     
  • Anesthesiologists - You may be thinking of sedation for surgery when you think of this medical specialty, but they also carry out several procedures used for pain management like epidurals and nerve blocks.
     
  • Specialty doctors - Depending on the cause of your pain, you may see a neurologist, rheumatologist, oncologist, or various other physicians that treat specific conditions.
     
  • Psychologists/Psychiatrists - Various types of psychotherapy may be used to treat chronic pain and comorbidities.
     
  • Physical/Occupational therapists - These specialists help people with chronic pain get moving and recover from injury or surgery.

Diagnostic Tools for Finding the Root Cause of Pain

There are many different methods used for diagnosing the cause of pain so that it can be effectively treated. Your healthcare providers may use one or more of the following tools to diagnose your pain:

  • Patient history - Assess history of injury and likelihood of certain conditions based on prior conditions or genetics
     
  • Physical exam - Look for outward signs of pain, neurological function
     
  • X-Ray - Test that provides picture of the skeleton for injury or other conditions
     
  • CT scan - Uses x-ray technology and computers to create a 3D image
  • MRI - Uses powerful magnets and computer programs to create a detailed image of the inside of the body
     
  • PET scan - Used to measure tissue changes at cellular level, usually for when cancer is suspected
     
  • Nerve studies - Electromyography and nerve conduction studies, used to evaluate nerve function visually
     
  • Discography - Uses contrast dye and x-ray or CT scan technology to look closely at vertebrae

If you’re satisfied with the care you’re receiving and the results you’re getting, you probably have a great pain specialist who is working hard to address your chronic pain comprehensively. If not, ask your PCP or physiatrist for an alternative specialist for that particular discipline. Don’t for a second be afraid to advocate for yourself!