Everyone experiences pain at different times. Pain can be a good thing – it can help alert us that there is something wrong with our body and also helps to steer us away from danger. We know not to touch an open flame because of the pain that will ensue; that type of physiological warning helps us learn how to detect and avoid dangerous circumstances at a young age.
While pain can serve a purpose, no one enjoys experiencing it. And for people with certain illnesses or injuries, chronic pain can be extremely debilitating, limiting one’s ability live a full life. Others suffer from periodic and sudden onset of acute pain. Pain management specialists work with patients in such situations to help better manage pain and overcome the obstacles that pain can bring.
Pain is the most common reason that people make an appointment to see a doctor and it affects more people than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. It is also the leading cause of disability.
Texas Health Care/Privia North Texas has four pain management physicians on its team. Pain management specialists have special training in evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of various types of pain, including acute pain, chronic pain and pain related to cancer.
Pain management specialists work with patients suffering from a wide array of conditions, including cancer, migraine headaches, sciatica, lower back pain, fibromyalgia, neck pain and many others.
“Sometimes, the source of a patient’s pain is fairly easy to determine – perhaps it is caused by an injury or an illness, such as cancer,” says Dr. Christopher Pratt. “In other instances, the cause of the pain may not be as obvious.”
Working with your primary care physician and any specialists you are seeing, the pain management physician will seek to determine the cause of the pain so that the underlying condition may be treated. This can involve physical examinations, as well as lab tests and imaging in order to rule out certain conditions, such as cancer.
“There are some cases in which there is no apparent cause for the pain – yet it’s real, nonetheless,” says Dr. Timothy Ratino. “This can be very frustrating for a patient, but it doesn’t mean the pain can’t be treated and managed.”
Medication is one of the most common treatments for pain. For example, someone who suffers chronic headaches may respond well to certain prescription medications, depending on the type of headache he or she is experiencing. “Medication may not necessarily cure the pain, but in many cases, will help to reduce both the frequency and duration of pain episodes,” explains Dr. Thomas Ratino.
Your pain management specialist will carefully evaluate medication options, balancing the efficacy of combating pain with any potential side effects. For example, some over-the-counter medications can be effective at alleviating muscle aches and back pain, but prolonged use can have negative side effects on the digestive system. Similarly, powerful opiate drugs can be quite effective at reducing or eliminating pain, but they can also be very addictive, so physicians are careful about prescribing them.
There are a variety of other strategies a pain management specialist may use to help manage pain. Sometimes, steroid injections into the area of the body where the pain originates can help reduce inflammation and pain. Injection of a local anesthetic can help to numb the pain for a period of time.
In other cases, a physician can block the peripheral nerves responsible for the feeling of pain. Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally-invasive procedure that will destroy the nerves causing the pain. Spinal cord stimulation is a procedure that can help mitigate lower back pain.
Some treatments don’t address the pain directly, but help the patient better manage the pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a program that helps the patient understand how he or she reacts to pain and helps refocus their thoughts and energies to overcome the pain and not let it interfere with every aspect of their lives.
Physical and occupational therapy is often an important part of a pain management treatment plan, depending on the cause of the illness or injury. Particularly for someone with an orthopedic injury, getting stronger and learning how to move in a way that does not exacerbate the pain is essential. The same is true for patients recovering from hip surgery, stroke and other illnesses.
“There are a wide range of treatment strategies that pain management specialists employ to help our patients,” says Dr. Vinay Dalal. “We are often able to bring significant relief to our patients, helping them to have a higher quality of life and not be prisoners to their pain. And the best news is that we are seeing more and more advances in the field of pain management – we are discovering new ways to combat pain all the time.”
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