Doctors, who treat pain

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What is a pain management specialist?

A pain management specialist is a doctor who has had special education and training in assessing, diagnosing, and treating people who have different types of pain. Pain includes a wide variety of disorders, including chronic and acute pain, back pain, and cancer.

Many different diseases and disorders can cause pain. Alternatively, it can exist without an apparent cause. Some of the common causes of pain are:

  • Injuries
  • Surgery
  • Nerve damage
  • Metabolic problems, like diabetes

In recent years, researchers have discovered that the problem of pain has many variables and is incredibly complex. Due to this, it became more important for physicians who have special skills in this area to be available for treating patients with pain.

A pain management specialist has the knowledge and ability to:

  • Evaluate chronic and acute cases of complicated pain
  • Recommend or perform specialized studies or tests to assist in the diagnosis of painful problems
  • Prescribe appropriate medications
  • Recommend and perform procedures to help relieve pain, such as:
    • Spinal injections
    • Nerve blocks

A pain management specialist also can play an essential part in coordinating a person’s plan of treatment. In particular, this doctor makes referrals to other professionals, such as physical therapists, counselors, or other specialists, as needed. Today, there are a variety of pain doctors that specialize in different types of pain. A back pain specialist, for example, has expertise in treating back pain and spine conditions. Similarly, the bone doctor specializes in the management of bone conditions.

How do I find a pain management specialist?

In most cases, patients are referred to a pain management specialist through their primary physician or healthcare provider or through the physician treating the condition that is causing pain. Examples of physicians who work closely with pain management specialists include:

  • Oncologists or cancer doctors
  • Orthopedic surgeons
  • Neurologists

If you seek a pain management specialist on your own, make sure they are board-certified and have experience and training to help you with your type of pain.

What to expect

When you visit a pain management specialist, the first thing the doctor will do is ask about your pain. During the first visit, the pain management specialist will talk to you about your medical history, perform a physical examination, and review what tests or procedures you have had in the past.

The pain doctor may ask you to bring copies of any imaging studies you have had in the past. They may include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography (CT) scans. The specialist may also give you a form to fill out before your first visit that asks concrete questions about your pain. Sometimes the pain doctor can plan to perform a procedure on the first visit. In that case, you will be informed of that ahead of time.

Your initial visit with your pain management specialist is not only a time for your doctor to ask questions—you need to ask questions, too. If you have any questions about your treatment plan, your physician’s treatment methods, or any other concerns, be sure to ask. It is essential that you have confidence in and feel comfortable with your pain management specialist and communicate openly with them about your pain.

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