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Pain Clinics Overview

If you are among the 50 million Americans living with chronic pain, a full and active life may seem like an impossible dream. But don't give up. If the pain treatment you have tried doesn't provide relief, a pain clinic may help.

A pain clinic is a health care facility that focuses on the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. Some specialize in specific diagnoses or in pain related to a specific region of the body. Also called pain management clinics, pain clinics often use a multidisciplinary approach to help people take an active role in managing their pain and regaining control of their life. These programs are focused on the total person, not just the pain.

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What Does a Pain Clinic Do?

Although pain clinics differ in their focus and offerings, most involve a team of health care providers that can help you with a variety of strategies to manage your pain.

These health care providers are likely to include doctors of different specialties as well as non-physician providers specializing in the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. These providers may include psychologists, physical therapists, and complementary and alternative therapists such as acupuncturists or massage therapists. Together, they will put together a pain management plan for you.

Strategies for Pain Relief and Management

At a pain clinic, your therapy plan will be tailored to your specific needs, circumstances, and preferences. Depending on the cause of your pain, treatments may include one or more of the following:

Medications. In many cases, patients are prescribed treatment before receiving other forms of therapy. Medications for pain may include:

  • Non-aspirin pain relievers. These drugs, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), relieve minor pain and are sometimes combined with other drugs to provide greater pain relief.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Available over the counter or by prescription, these drugs -- including ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) -- are used to treat pain and inflammation.
  • Corticosteroids. Available only by a prescription, these cortisone-like drugs are used for more severe inflammatory conditions.
  • Opioid pain medications. These morphine-like drugs are often prescribed short term for acute pain or for cancer pain. Occasionally, doctors prescribe them for chronic, non-cancer pain.
  • Antidepressants. Originally designed to treat depression, these drugs can be useful for relieving certain types of pain. Antidepressants may also promote sleep, which can be difficult when you are in pain.

Often, medications alone aren't enough to treat chronic pain. Other treatments may be more effective than medications, and medication may be more effective when combined with other treatments. Other available treatments offered by pain centers may include:

Injections. Local anesthetics, sometimes combined with a corticosteroid, may be injected around nerve roots or into muscles and joints to relieve irritation, swelling, and muscle spasms.

Nerve blocks. If a group of nerves, called a ganglion or plexus, causes pain to a specific organ or body region, injections with local anesthetics may be useful for blocking the pain in that area.

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