If you're one of the 100 million Americans in chronic pain, living a full and active life may seem out of your reach. But with the right treatment and support, it is possible. You've probably already visited your regular doctor, but there are also experts who specialize in treating pain who can work with your doctor and you to help you find relief.
1. Pain Medicine Specialists
What they treat: Many different types of pain, including pain that’s caused by surgery, injury, nerve damage, and conditions like diabetes. They also treat pain that doesn’t have a clear cause. They use medications given by mouth or targeted injections.
How to find one: Go to the websites of the American Academy of Pain Medicine (www.painmed.org) and the American Board of Pain Medicine (www.abpm.org) for directories of specialists.
2. Orthopedic Specialists and Surgeons
What they treat: Injuries and diseases that affect your musculoskeletal system, which includes your bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Many specialize in certain parts of the body like the hips, knees, and shoulders. Once they diagnose your injury or disorder, they'll create a treatment plan that could include medicine. They might also recommend exercises (or refer you to a physical therapist) to help restore movement, strength, and function to your body and teach you how to prevent further issues. They are trained as surgeons, so if surgery is necessary, they can do it.
3. Osteopathic Doctors
What they treat: Although they’re similar to medical doctors (they have also gone to medical school, but have DO after their names instead of MD), osteopathic doctors get extra training in the musculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, muscles, and bones.
How to find one: Go to the website of the American Osteopathic Association (www.osteopathic.org).
What they treat: Rheumatic diseases, including arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and tendinitis, which can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints,muscles, and bones. Treatments may include medicines or anti-inflammatory or pain-blocking injections in your tendons or joints.
How to find one: Go to the American College of Rheumatology's website (www.rheumatology.org).
5. Physiatrists or Rehabilitation Physicians
What they treat: Injuries and conditions that affect how you move. They diagnose and treat pain related to nerves, muscles, and bones including carpal tunnel, neck and back pain, sports and work injuries, herniated discs, arthritis, pinched nerves, and concussions without the use of surgery. These doctors also treat post-surgery pain.
How to find one: Go to the website of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (www.aapmr.org).
6. Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists
What they treat: These professionals work with people recovering from injury or surgery. Physical therapists may use massage, stretching, heat, ice, and exercise to help ease your pain and increase your mobility. They often carry out the orders written by physiatrists.
What they treat: Acupuncturists are trained to work with a wide range of conditions causing pain, including headaches, knee pain, low back pain, neck pain, sciatica, sprains, and osteoarthritis. They insert very thin needles into specific points on your body, which are said to promote healing. Although needles might sound scary, most people feel little or no discomfort.
How to find one: Go to the websites of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (aaaomonline.org), the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (www.nccaom.org), or the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (www.medicalacupuncture.org).
What they treat: Back pain is a common reason people seek out chiropractors, but these specialists treat pain from all kinds of conditions, injuries, and accidents -- even chronic headaches. They don't prescribe medicine, but they use hands-on techniques to offer relief.
How to find one: Go to the American Chiropractic Association's website (www.acatoday.org) and search on their "Find a Doctor" page.