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When to Consider Surgery for Chronic Pain: 5 Signs It’s Time To See A Pain Specialist

Pain is an essential part of our body’s evolution. It is a natural and complex mechanism designed to keep us away from harm. When pain receptors malfunction due to pathological conditions or injuries, the pain we feel can be exacerbated and, in some cases, unrelenting.

When to Consider Surgery for Chronic PainYoung-black-woman-suffer-shoulder-and-neck-pain

Living with pain can be difficult and debilitating. Pain specialists usually resort to medications, non-invasive procedures, exercise, and therapy as the first-line methods for treating and alleviating pain. When these methods fall short or severe and persistent pain is involved, surgical intervention may be necessary and more effective. 

Depending on the origin of the pain or the specific condition of the patient, pain specialists may rely on the following surgical procedures:


Surgical interventions and repairs to the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system can help alleviate pain by restoring intricate functions and sensations that were partially or completely impacted due to sustained damage.

Reconstructive Surgery

Improving and repairing body functions usually affected by life-altering birth defects, devastating illnesses, and traumatic injuries can help mitigate pain at its root and help patients regain the ability to live a more normal and comfortable life.

Orthopedic Surgery

Pain experienced as a result of conditions or trauma affecting the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles is among the most common causes of chronic pain and can be alleviated effectively through surgery.

Still, it’s not always easy to determine whether chronic pain warrants a visit to a pain management specialist. If you experience any of the following signs, it may be time to consider more aggressive treatment options.

1. You’re experiencing consistent severe pain that is getting worse.

Typically, the first step in treating any condition is exhausting all reasonable non-surgical treatments available. But if you’re experiencing severe pain that is worsening, it may be time to talk to a pain management specialist about surgical options for pain relief. 

Pain management specialists are doctors devoted to treating different types of pain, namely – acute, chronic, neuropathic, nociceptive, and radicular pain. 

Acute Pain

Acute pain is pain that lasts less than three months. This type of pain is usually responsive to many forms of treatments and tends to be related to a soft-tissue injury or a temporary illness. That said, this type of pain typically subsides after the injury heals or the illness subsides.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is pain that lasts from several weeks to months, and even years. This type of pain is usually unresponsive to most treatments and may require nerve surgery for pain relief. When acute pain from an injury does not heal correctly or the pain signals malfunction, acute pain can turn into chronic pain.

Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain happens as a result of damage to the nerves or other parts of the nervous system and is a common type of chronic pain. This pain is often described as shooting, stabbing, or burning, or feeling like pins and needles. Neuropathic pain can affect sensitivity to touch, can be intermittent, and debilitating. 

Nociceptive Pain

Nociceptive pain is a sharp, achy, or throbbing pain caused by damage to body tissue. It can be both acute and chronic and is often experienced in the joints, muscles, skin, tendons, and bones. 

Radicular Pain

Radicular pain is a radiating pain from the back and hip into the legs by way of the spine and spinal nerve. This pain can occur when the spinal nerve gets compressed or inflamed. Those who suffer from radicular pain often experience tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness.

If your pain has become unmanageable or has not subsided over time, talk to a pain management doctor for a proper evaluation. They can help you identify the best and most effective means to treat your pain. While surgery is not usually the first course of action, in some cases, pain may be alleviated or should be addressed immediately through advanced surgical procedures.

2. Pain relief from medications and/or other pain management treatments has plateaued or diminished.

Over-the-counter medication (OTC) can often resolve minor or occasional aches and pains. However, if you find yourself increasingly dependent on OTC medication without much success alleviating the pain you’re experiencing, it may be time to see a pain specialist. Dependence on medication – even those available over-the-counter – can have lasting negative effects on your health.

A pain management doctor or surgeon can help you become less dependent on OTC medications while getting the pain relief you need. By working with a pain specialist, you can get a better treatment plan, more effective medication, and/or pain surgery that can get to the heart of what’s causing your pain. 

3. You’re experiencing tingling sensations or numbness in your extremities. 

Tingling sensations or numbness in your hands, fingers, feet, or toes can actually be an indicator that you have nerve damage. These sensations occur because the nerves cannot carry the correct signals from the brain to the spinal cord.

Nerve damage usually happens as a result of injuries. The severity of injury usually goes hand in hand with the severity of the nerve damage you have sustained. But while minor nerve damage can heal with time as the body recovers, severe nerve damage is difficult to treat and often requires surgical nerve repair. Even if the injury was internal and not visible on the outside, it could take weeks, months, or even years, to regain full mobility and sensation. 

Left untreated, nerve damage can be permanent. If you have been diagnosed with or suspect you may have damaged nerves, it’s vital to seek the help of a neurologist specializing in nerve pain as soon as possible.

4.  You want to improve your quality of life.

In medical terms, quality of life simply means, “a person’s ability to enjoy normal life activities”. This definition, of course, varies for each individual as they value different things that contribute to their quality of life. 

Recent studies suggest that the way we cope with pain can influence our quality of life. If you’re experiencing intense, chronic, and/or debilitating pain that is diminishing your quality of life, surgical intervention may be the best solution to treat, alleviate, or manage the pain you feel to experience a noticeable improvement.

Here are a few considerations to help you gauge your quality of life:

  • Your physical comfort
  • Your mobility and independence
  • Your happiness and the state of your personal relationships
  • Your ability to keep an occupation you value
  • Your mood

5. The pain you’re experiencing has become unbearable, debilitating, and disruptive.

Are you having difficulties sleeping, struggling to complete day-to-day activities, or withdrawing from social engagements because of intense pain? Stress, coupled with constantly interrupted sleeping patterns, weakens your immune system drastically and can lead to serious complications.

High pain levels can also wreak havoc on your mental well-being and manifest in several ways. You may feel anxious or depressed about your pain, struggle to concentrate or remember things, or you may feel irritable or angry. This can inadvertently lead to more harm or other injuries as you struggle to function amidst coping with pain.

Board-Certified Pain Management Doctors in New Jersey

A good pain management specialist in NJ can help you determine when it’s time to consider surgical intervention to manage your pain. To help ensure a proper evaluation, it is vital to relay telltale signs you may have been experiencing with your current level of pain or pain management regimen. Keeping a pain diary may be helpful so you can jot down your observations and the details of their occurrence. 

Depending on the nature of your pain, it may be recommended that you see a surgical specialist, such as an:

  • Orthopedic Surgeon: An orthopedic surgeon specializes in surgeries of the bones, joints, and muscles. This includes procedures such as joint replacement, spinal surgery, and fracture repair.
  • Neurosurgeon: A neurosurgeon specializes in surgeries of the brain, spine, and nervous system. This includes procedures such as brain surgery, spinal cord surgery, and peripheral nerve surgery.
  • Plastic Surgeon: A plastic surgeon specializes in surgeries to improve the appearance of the body. This includes procedures such as breast augmentation, facelifts, and liposuction.
  • Urologist: A urologist specializes in surgeries of the urinary tract and male reproductive system. This includes procedures such as prostate surgery and kidney stone removal.
  • Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) Surgeon: An ENT surgeon specializes in surgeries of the ear, nose, and throat, including tonsillectomy, sinus surgery, and ear tube placement.
Having the support of skilled pain management specialists with years of experience can make all the difference. Surgery may just be the life-changing treatment you need to get ahead of your pain and live a better quality of life.

Schedule a consultation today to learn more about your pain management treatment options.