Do You Need a Pain Doctor?

A pain doctor is a doctor who is an authority on managing pain in his or her own field, whether it’s neurology, anesthesiology, physical medicine and rehab, or even psychiatry. Find out which type of specialist you should consider seeking and how you could benefit.

There’s no doubt that there is a great need for pain doctors: pain is a tricky and all too common problem. In fact, more than 76 million Americans aged 20 years and older — 25 percent of the population — say they’ve had pain lasting more than 24 hours.

When pain control seems beyond reach, it may be time to turn to a pain specialist, an expert within his or her own field.

As with any ailment, the first stop for patients looking for pain treatment should be their primary care physician if a referral is required by their insurance carrier or directly to a pain physician if no referral is needed. However, if you are already being treated by your primary care provider for pain and can’t find a satisfactory pain relief program within an appropriate length of time or if your pain is getting worse, referral to a pain specialist is the next step.

What Does a Pain Specialist Do?

Unlike acute pain, which is generally caused by a sensation in the nervous system designed to alert a person to a possible injury or ailment and the need to get it treated, chronic pain lasts much longer. Sometimes it may start as acute pain in the form of a sprained back or serious illness that continues much longer than it should. In other cases it might be due to an ongoing condition. Still other patients have pain despite no evidence of an injury.

Common types of chronic pain include:

  •       Back and neck pain
  •       Arthritis
  •       Migraines
  •       Shingles
  •       Cancer pain
  •       Nerve pain

Pain Control by Specialty

While acute pain usually improves with time, chronic pain can linger and may even require intervention. How a pain specialist chooses to proceed with pain control depends greatly on his background and expertise. Pain specialists can come from a wide variety of specialties:

  •       Anesthesiologists. Anesthesiologists can offer nerve blocks, trigger point injections, and oral medications. They may also be able to implant devices like stimulators and pumps.
  •       Neurosurgeons. These specialists can often do spine or nerve surgery, procedures related to the spinal cord or brain, and disk replacement or spine fusion surgeries, among other pain treatment techniques. They may also provide nerve blocks, implantable devices, and oral medications.
  •       Physiatrists. Physiatrists are rehabilitation physicians who use various kinds of therapy including physical, recreational, and occupational therapy, and focus on exercise and movement. Some may also do nerve blocks, implant stimulators, and possibly medication pumps.
  •       Psychiatrists. In addition to prescribing oral medications, psychiatrists may offer cognitive behavioral therapies, family counseling and group therapy, hypnosis, and biofeedback, among other therapies. Many psychiatrists focus on how the patient reacts to pain and issues related to how the pain is affecting the quality of life.