Pain should come and go, but some pain is here to stay. Chronic pain conditions plague about one-fifth of American adults, and about 7.4 percent of Americans struggle with debilitating high-impact chronic pain – the kind that leaves one unable to work, go to school, or perform some of their usual duties. A pain management clinic specializes in helping patients with debilitating chronic pain regain quality of life and find long-lasting relief.
While our nerves help us identify and avoid sources of injury, certain factors can cause them to misfire, send inappropriate signals, or get stuck in an “on” state – leading to the buildup and continuous transmission of pain signals for weeks, months, and even years. Such conditions can have their origins in the nervous system, musculoskeletal system, endocrine system, or even the psyche. Identifying and effectively treating sources of chronic pain requires a thorough and multimodal approach.
What Is a Pain Management Clinic?
A pain management clinic specializes in treating chronic pain conditions by bringing together experts and professionals from several branches of medicine to work together on diagnosing and treating patients. By representing different viewpoints and experiences, these professionals work together to provide a much more comprehensive treatment plan, one that takes into consideration every aspect of a patient’s care, such as:
- Their mental state.
- Their day-to-day activities.
- The role these play in preventing or exacerbating pain.
- The combination of physical and psychological therapies with pharmacology and non-invasive surgical interventions.
Pain clinics may be staffed with various Doctors of Medicine (MDs) and Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs), with specializations in orthopedics, neurology, oncology, psychology, gastroenterology, and more. Non-doctor staff such as nurse practitioners, occupational therapists, and physical therapists/physiotherapists also play crucial roles in helping administer diagnostic tests and treatments across a wide spectrum of care.
As a clinic, pain clinics are outpatient medical facilities. This means patients come in for appointments and treatments and leave to go home. These facilities usually are not outfitted to have patients stay overnight, for example. They may also refer patients to a hospital if hospitalization is necessary. Pain clinics are an example of a group practice where multiple experienced doctors from different specializations work together. This type of facility is structured differently from one specialized entirely in one type of care or pathology.
It provides the benefit of a much more comprehensive treatment style, which is important in cases of chronic pain. This is simply because there are many different causes of chronic pain. A pain management clinic too heavily weighted towards one specialization may not consider the merits of other treatments outside the resident doctor’s scope. Some patients require more physical interventions, while others are best served through treatment for depression, for example.
What Is a Pain Specialist?
Pain specialists are doctors who work at a pain management clinic. They might not necessarily be specialists in pain, per se. Still, They may have a different specialization that helps them bring their unique experience and viewpoint to the table in a group practice. A gastroenterologist may be able to address continuous abdominal pain better and formulate a better treatment plan to coordinate with other doctors in practice.
Some doctors do specialize in treating pain. They might be board-certified through the American Board of Pain Medicine or the American Board of Interventional Pain Physicians, which involves passing a written exam and undergoing a program. Such doctors may even pick multiple pain-related specialties, such as palliative care and anesthesiology.
However, doctors who have not specialized in pain management can still be effective pain specialists when working with other healthcare providers. For any patient looking for a pain specialist, some of the most important qualifications lie in how the doctor coordinates with other professionals rather than their own specific qualifications.
Walking You Through Your First Pain Management Clinic Visit
Diagnostic medicine is at the heart of chronic pain treatment. Chronic pain causes exist on a wide physical and psychological spectrum, with a long list of overlapping conditions and comorbidities. A generalist – such as an internist, family practitioner, or other types of general physician – will often be the first doctor to see you during your first visit to a pain management clinic to try and gather as much information as possible about your medical history and the nature of your condition.
The first visit may include multiple diagnostic tests and a physical examination, as well as an interview. Family history, potential comorbidities, and questions around mental health and former substance use may be asked to gauge how each of these factors could impact the symptoms described. Even if a different doctor gave you a diagnosis, a pain management clinic might want to do its own investigation, especially if the treatments prescribed by your previous doctor are not working. Diagnostic tests can reveal sensitivities or problems with specific medications and provide alternate diagnoses that might better address the root of the problem.
Beware Heavily Specialized Practices
Good pain clinics value the collaboration between different branches of medicine and the figurative union between physical and psychological healthcare. Such clinics may hold case conferences to discuss a patient’s symptoms and test results, coordinate interventions, rehabilitate efforts and work together to devise treatment plans that take a multimodal approach.
Such can help address a patient’s pain as well as their comorbidities, such as:
- Symptoms of anxiety and depression (which can take normal pain signals and amplify them greatly).
- Addiction (smoking, drinking, or other drug use can exacerbate or lead to the development of chronic pain).
- Weight management (both the physical weight of obesity and endocrine problems associated with rapid weight gain can influence pain).
Practices too heavily specialized in one approach may not consider such treatment options like:
- Talk therapy
- Nerve blocks
- Surgical intervention
- Physical rehabilitation
- Electrical nerve stimulation
- Narcotic and non-opioid medication
- And more
True Pain Management Is Multimodal
Some patients misunderstand pain management and believe pain clinics to be dispensaries for opioid medication. But pain management is not that simple. True pain management is multimodal, and most pain clinics go through great lengths to help patients avoid unnecessary medications or surgical interventions.
Pain management is also never a one-and-done – it is often an ongoing process, with treatment plans that evolve as symptoms and circumstances change. Treatments may involve simple lifestyle changes such as ergonomics, taking more frequent breaks at work, a specialized nutritional plan, and prescribed daily exercises.