In September 2018, the Centers for Disease Control released a new report following a survey of 33,000 Americans; it stated that 50 million Americans (more than 20 percent of the population) suffer from chronic pain. Even more harrowing is the fact that 20 million people in that group live with what is known as “high-impact” chronic pain; this type of hindrance can prevent participation in social and work activities, and significantly reduce one’s overall quality of life. Thankfully, the business of pain management has been in constant flux, expanding to offer new modalities for mitigating these unpleasant symptoms.
Typically, patients would see a pain specialist after recommendation or referral by their primary care physician. Pain doctors, who also go by the names pain specialist or pain management specialist, are either medical doctors (MD) or doctors of osteopathy (DO) who have a focus on the evaluation, treatment, and prevention of pain.
Because the underlying causes of pain are so diverse – ranging from surgery and injury to cancer and nerve damage – a multidisciplinary approach to healing is often utilized for pain management. Pain doctors can act as consultants and authorities on pain in many different fields, including physical therapy, neurology, interventional radiology, and anesthesiology as part of a successful pain management program.
The ultimate goal of a pain specialist is to help their patients return to their normal lives with minimal reliance on surgery, or medications (which really only mask a problem and are usually fleeting fix). Before a pain specialist can remedy the situation, they must first evaluate it using a series of diagnostic tools. In addition to conducting a physical and neurological examination, they will question a patient on their complete medical history to determine if the root cause of pain could be related to genetics.
Before seeking the advice of a pain specialist, it can be beneficial to keep a log of your symptoms, including when they occur and how often. These are all topics that will be covered in office. Depending on your symptoms, pain doctors will use various imaging studies including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), radiographs (X-rays), and PET scans – which are typically used if cancer is suspected.
As previously mentioned, each pain doctor in their respective field is able to detect different conditions. For example, a neurologist often diagnoses migraines – which can cause debilitating pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and overall fatigue. Pain management specialists also play an important role in the field of orthopedic surgery since prosthetics can cause joint discomfort and fit issues. Chronic pain is so elusive that sometimes the cause goes undetected.
One area of pain that has experienced great strides in recent years is psychiatry. After all, the correlation between psychological issues and pain has been brought to light – leading to the development of myriad techniques for conquering pain using the mantra “mind over matter.” One recent study showed that people with chronic pain are more likely to suffer from depression. Physiatrists offer cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling (both individual and family), and hypnosis to quell the behavioral and mood-altering effects of pain.
A physician anesthesiologist can assist you in developing a treatment plan for pain without the use of addictive opioids. According to the American Academy of Anesthesiologists, nerve blocks have been particularly beneficial for dampening pain, and even stopping chronic pain from developing in the first place. Electrical signals are also being utilized to release endorphins, the body’s “feel good” hormones.
Is pain keeping you from participating in the activities you love? It’s time to put a stop to it. The experts at Balcones Pain Consultants are board-certified anesthesiologists offering a host of proven techniques for mitigating pain. Spinal cord stimulation, nerve blocks, stem cell therapy, and acupuncture are just a few of the procedures offered. For more information, or to schedule your appointment, call (512) 834-4141.