Anesthesiology is often thought of as a field that specializes in work during surgeries to keep people asleep and comfortable. There are lesser-known subspecialties in this field including pain management anesthesiology, where the focus is on helping people who have acute or chronic pain issues. Other doctors may specialize in pain management, such as neurologists and psychiatrists, and the field isn’t exclusive to doctors. Chiropractors, nurse anesthesiologists, and psychologists also may work in pain management.
With true pain management anesthesiology, anesthesiologists complete their specialty and then train for at least one more year specifically in pain management. In common speech, the title of these doctors often gets dropped, and they are simply known as pain management doctors. Patients with a period of acute pain or with a chronic pain condition may seek out one of these doctors in order to obtain help.
The types of treatment pain management anesthesiology may undertake for a patient in pain are varied. Sometimes these anesthesiologists are able to help a person manage pain with the prescription of various medications. Treatment doesn’t end with a prescription, since many of the drugs prescribed are potentially addictive or have heavy side effect profiles. Doctors continue to follow their patients to determine how well they are responding to medications, and whether any adjustments to medication type or dose are required. It is often the nature of pain medications that require frequent adjustment.
Sometimes pain management anesthesiology must go farther than prescribing an oral drug. Some patients need more significant interventions. Other options available to these anesthesiologists are to use procedures like pain blocks or epidurals to reduce pain for a longer period of time. Injections of pain medicines or steroids can help reduce inflammation or dull sensation to painful parts of the body.
Doctors working in pain management anesthesiology don’t necessarily work alone. Chronic pain may not be solved simply with the application of medicines or procedures like blocks. It’s not unusual for pain management anesthesiologists to help coordinate with a patient’s general practitioner and with other doctors or allied specialists, such as physical therapists, that the patient might see. The ultimate goal is to relieve pain permanently, when that is possible. Thus, these anesthesiologists may be part of a team that is working to relieve the patient’s pain.
In some instances, treating the source of the pain is not possible. People in chronic and unrelenting pain due to an incurable cancer may not find relief with physical therapists or others because their condition is worsening. In these cases, pain management anesthesiology focuses most on providing the highest level of comfort to the patient with the lowest level of sedation. Through their skill, vigilance, and knowledge, these specialists can greatly increase the quality of life as it draws to a close.