For those who live every day with chronic pain, the simplest activity can be torturous. There are places that can help when it feels that there is nowhere to turn. The purpose of the pain management clinic is to give back some part of a patient’s life that was stolen by uncontrollable pain. Not every doctor is a specialist in the treatment of pain, particularly chronic pain. Referrals aren’t always necessary to be seen by a specialist, but it is always best to make sure before making an appointment. Confirm the type of coverage an insurance policy provides, but it’s important to know pain can be managed.
Various conditions can result in the need for specialty care. Physicians who haven’t been trained to care for them do not always understand neurological and physiological pain conditions. Chronic pain is defined as pain that routine treatment and care has not helped for six months or longer. The pain may come and go. It may be piercing and sharp or dull and achy. When these pain signals remain active in the nerves for months or more, the sufferer may literally become incapacitated due to the limitations caused by their pain. Most often, chronic pain stems from ongoing pain due to injury, headaches, joint pain and back problems. Muscle and nerve pain, as well as carpal tunnel syndrome and pelvic pain, may also lead to a chronic pain situation. An original injury or a trauma may precede the development of chronic pain. However, there are many instances of people who develop chronic pain but have never experienced any known injury or damage to their body. While there is still much to learn about unprovoked chronic conditions, great advancements in medicine are being made. Pain doctors are gaining a more in-depth understanding of the role nerves play in pain where no obvious injury is present.
Each physician approaches pain management their own way. Some try drug-free interventions, such as massage, acupuncture, physical therapy and electrical nerve stimulation. When there is no improvement, the doctor considers more traditional medical intervention. NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are a first-line drug for pain doctors. By relieving inflammation in muscles, the hope is to see a reduction in pain for the patient. The next step typically consists of corticosteroid delivery. These drugs are used in cases where severe inflammation and swelling are believed to be the major cause of pain. Antidepressants have been used somewhat successfully for Fibromyalgia. Doctors cannot be certain why antidepressants work, but they show great promise for pain relief. The last resort for treatment involves narcotic pain relievers. These are the drugs of choice for pain relief when a patient has lost their quality of life due to pain, and when less drastic treatments have proven unsuccessful. Opioid narcotic medications are typically morphine-like. Most often used for cancer pain and in acute, short-term causes of pain, such as after surgery, they may be prescribed to chronic pain sufferers who demonstrate no relief from any other treatment. Short-acting narcotics, such as Vicodin, are not recommended for long-term use. The least risky option for long-term use of narcotic pain relief involves prescribing a long-acting form of the drug. There are patches that can provide relief up to a full week, such as the Butrans Patch, which releases a steady dose of the drug buprenorphine into the skin. Other stronger narcotics, such as morphine, can be prescribed in pill form that will last 12-24 hours with each dose.
Some patients who seek treatment from a pain management clinic worry about the possibility of addiction to narcotics. In all honesty, the chance of becoming addicted to a needed pain medication is very small. In one study conducted among 12,000 patients on long-term morphine treatment, only 4 became addicted. That represents less than 1/10th of 1%. Pain doctors are trained to handle this type of patient. So long as the dosage schedule is followed precisely, it is unnecessary to worry. Just enjoy living a life free of debilitating pain.