What Are Pain Management Specialists?

B. Chisholm

Pain management specialists are people who specialize in treating pain; they may include anesthetists, neurologist and physiatrists, amongst others. Management of pain, especially chronic pain is often very difficult and requires a multi-faceted approach including both the input of physicians and other health care workers such as physiotherapists, massage therapists and acupuncturists.

A pain management specialist working with a client.
A pain management specialist working with a client.

Many specialist doctors specialize further and become pain management specialists. While any doctor may become a pain management specialist, most commonly it is neurologists, anesthetists, neurosurgeons and physiatrists who generally choose this field. Neurologists are specialists in conditions affecting the nervous system, neurosurgeons specialize in nerve system surgery, anesthetists are specialists in anesthetics and physiatrists specialize in physical medicine of injuries.

Pain management specialists may prescribe medications to help aid patients with chronic ailments.
Pain management specialists may prescribe medications to help aid patients with chronic ailments.

Pain may result from numerous sources including injury, such as sports injuries or motor vehicle accidents and clinical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer. The pain management specialists will first ascertain the source of the pain and then establish an appropriate pain control program. They will also decide which of the pain management specialists is most suitable for the diagnosis and refer accordingly.

The multi-factorial treatment program recommended by the pain management specialists may include a number of measures. Firstly, medical treatment may be recommended. This could include the use of various analgesics, such as acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or opioid medicines. It is important to take these exactly as prescribed by the doctor to get the full effect and to prevent adverse effects.

More often than not other, non-drug, measures will be suggested. These may include physiotherapy, gentle exercise, massage, acupuncture and other complementary medicines. In some cases, surgery may be necessary. There is often a significant amount of anxiety involved with chronic pain, so counseling, joining a support group and a psychologist referral may be recommended.

In most big centers, specialized pain clinics have been established. These are clinics which usually have the whole range of pain management specialists sharing a consulting space. Many of these include a surgery and day surgery department.

When choosing the best pain management specialist a number of factors should be taken into consideration. These include the source of pain or underlying condition and more basic factors such as access. Personal reference from either a general practitioner or by word-of-mouth also helps in making a choice. It is important that whichever of the pain management specialists is chosen, the patient is comfortable with them and feels they can ask questions as, in most cases, it will be a long-term relationship.

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