See a Pain Expert
If you have chronic pain -- and treatment isn't helping enough -- you may need to see an expert. Unlike other doctors, pain specialists are focused on one thing: relieving pain. Take some time to learn more about pain specialists and how to find one.
Why a Pain Expert?
If your primary doctor can't seem to control your pain, a pain specialist may help.
Chronic pain isn't just a symptom, it's a condition in its own right. Think of it like any chronic disease, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Just as you may need to see a cardiologist for heart problems, you may need to see a pain specialist for hard-to-treat pain.
Pain specialists are experts in using many treatments to bring pain under control -- medication, injections, exercises, surgery, acupuncture, and more.
Which Pain Expert?
The best pain specialist depends on the cause of your pain and the treatment you need.
* Anesthesiologists treat chronic pain with meds, injected painkillers, or implanted devices.
* Neurologists and neurosurgeons treat damaged nerves or migraines.
* Psychiatrists use drugs, talk therapy, mind-body treatments, and other methods to help you cope with pain.
* Physiatrists help with rehab, physical therapy, and muscle strengthening to ease pain.
Find a Pain Expert
How can you find a pain expert?
* Start by asking your doctor for a referral.
* Call a local hospital or medical center and ask if they have a department of pain management. Find out what kind of specialists they have on staff and what services they offer. Ask about a consultation.
* Use the American Academy of Pain Management web site to find a local pain specialist or clinic.
If there's one nearby, a specialty pain clinic may be the best place to get treatment. Why? You'll have access to a wider set of treatments than you can get from a single doctor.
Chronic pain often requires a combination of different approaches. At a pain clinic, you may be able to see lots of pain experts -- from neurologists to therapists to acupuncturists -- in one place. These providers can work together to best serve your needs. Together, you can develop a customized treatment plan.
Meet a Pain Expert
Consider your first meeting with a pain specialist an interview to see how compatible you are. Here's some info to gather and assess:
* Experience helping people with pain like yours
* Specialty areas and board certifications
* Attitude the doctor and staff take with your pain and other concerns
* Willingness and reliable process to coordinate care with your other doctors
* Your expected role in choosing the treatment approach
Describe Your Pain
To give your primary doctor as well as a pain specialist a full chance to treat your pain, practice describing these specifics:
* Exactly where it hurts
* How the pain feels -- dull, throbbing, aching, or sharp
* Duration and frequency of pain -- is it steady or does it come and go?
* What eases your pain and what makes your pain worse
The better your new doctor gets to know you as a person, the better equipped he or she will be to help you with your pain problem.
Don't assume a pain specialist will be able to make pain disappear. That's not always possible. You need to have realistic expectations.
Even if a pain specialist can't take away all of your pain, he or she should be able to:
* Help you find solutions to better relieve your pain
* Improve your functioning, making it easier to do day-to-day things
* Improve your quality of life
When you meet with a pain specialist, ask what you can expect from treatment and listen carefully to the answer.