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What is Pain Management? | Knowing When to See a Specialist

Pain can be a clinical barometer for a patient’s health and well-being – so much so that doctors often acknowledge a patient’s “degree of pain” as a fifth vital sign. In some cases, pain can be experienced without any obvious cause and can be difficult to diagnose and treat. This is why seeing a specialized doctor for pain management, such as a physiatrist, is crucial to getting the right care. When pain is inadequately treated, it can have a detrimental effect on all aspects of an individual’s quality of life.

Chronic pain (characterized as pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks) affects over 30 percent, or roughly 2 billion people worldwide, and is among the most common chronic conditions in the US, affecting millions of Americans.

Chronic pain exerts an enormous physical, mental, and economic burden on sufferers and their loved ones. More often than not, medications alone do not suffice when it comes to treatment. Without adequate treatment, most chronic pain sufferers face a vicious cycle of insomnia, anxiety, and depression, negatively impacting their quality of life. 

Pain management is a medical approach aimed at diagnosing and either treating or controlling the symptoms of pain. This medical specialty covers a wide spectrum of acute and chronic pain conditions, such as pudendal neuralgia, chronic joint pain, post-mastectomy pain, cervicogenic headaches, and more.

When to See a Pain Management Specialist

Shoulder pain senior black man-1It’s reasonable to experience aches and pains from time to time, especially after a physical injury. Normal pain typically resolves over time and with minimal intervention. When pain lingers and becomes more significant, it’s a good idea to see a neurologist, physiatrist, rheumatologist, orthopedist, or other pain specialist to identify the source of pain and prevent the condition from getting worse.

Pain specialists also referred to as “pain doctors” or “pain management specialists,” are board-certified medical doctors (M.D.) or doctors of osteopathy (D.O.) who understand the intricate physiology of pain and specialize in its evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Pain management specialists often work with chronic pain patients or those with advanced types of pain. These patients typically experience unrelenting pain despite initial medical intervention or treatment. Because of the toll chronic pain can take on one’s mental and physical well-being, pain specialists focus care on the whole patient, not just their immediate symptoms. A patient’s pain management care team may include the following:

  • Brain and Spine Surgeons
  • Nerve Surgeons
  • Reconstructive Surgeons
  • Orthopedic Surgeons
  • Physiatrists
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Internists
  • Nurses
  • Occupational and Physical Therapists

What is Physiatry?

Physiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation. They are experts in managing pain caused by a variety of conditions, such as injuries, musculoskeletal disorders, and chronic pain syndromes, making them valuable assets on any pain management care team.

What to Expect

Unlike general practitioners, pain management doctors, such as physiatrists, can evaluate pain at a much deeper level and can get to the root cause of the pain rather than treating just the surface-level symptoms. This enables them to develop personalized treatment plans that aim to stop or alleviate the pain at the source. Physiatrists take a multidisciplinary approach to treat patients with chronic pain, collaborating closely with other healthcare professionals, such as physical and occupational therapists, to deliver highly personalized, holistic care. 

Treatments for Pain Management

There are many different treatment options available for pain management, which can be used alone or in combination to provide relief and improve function. These options include:

  • Physical therapy: helping to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion while reducing pain and inflammation.
  • Injections: such as steroid injections, facet joint injections, tendon sheath/bursa injections, or nerve blocks, can be used to provide targeted pain relief and reduce inflammation.
  • Behavioral therapy: including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help patients develop coping strategies and manage the psychological aspects of chronic pain.
  • Alternative therapies: such as acupuncture, massage, and yoga, may provide additional pain relief and promote relaxation.
  • Medication management: including prescription and/or over-the-counter drugs.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery, such as nerve decompression surgery, may be recommended for chronic pain management, particularly if the pain is caused by a specific structural or neurological problem, such as a herniated disc or nerve compression syndrome.

Getting Started With Pain Management in NJ

If you’re suffering from chronic pain, the support of an expert pain specialist with years of experience can offer transformative, life-changing treatment. The Center for Pain Management in New Jersey at the Institute for Advanced Reconstruction is at the forefront of physiatry and medical innovations for pain management. We can help you get on the path to relief with opioid-free, non-surgical, and surgical treatment plans led by our world-renowned specialists. 

Schedule a consultation today to learn more about the advanced care options available at our distinguished pain management center.