Chronic pain affects millions of Americans, negatively impacting their energy levels and overall quality of life. But they don’t have to suffer alone. Pain management clinics are designed to address the unique needs of chronic pain sufferers, providing diagnosis of and treatment for chronic pain with either a targeted or comprehensive full-body approach. If you or a loved one suffer from chronic pain, here’s what you need to know about pain management doctors and how they can help:

What does a pain management doctor do?

Pain management doctors specialize in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of pain, especially for patients with chronic pain that is difficult to diagnose. Once the doctor identifies the source of your pain, they can develop a treatment plan that works best for you. Treatment may  involve physical therapy, medication, or chiropractic care, as well as nonmedical interventions such as yoga, meditation or dietary changes.

Types of pain treated by a pain management doctor

The list of medical conditions that can lead to chronic pain is long, but the types of pain treated by pain management doctors typically fall into three main categories: direct tissue injury, nerve injury, or a combination of both.

Examples of conditions that cause direct tissue injury pain:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (small joints such as fingers and wrists)
  • Osteoarthritis (large joints such as knees and hips)

Examples of conditions that cause nerve injury pain:

  • Spinal cord injury
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neuropathy (nerve pain due to diabetes, HIV, or shingles)

Examples of conditions that cause mixed injury pain:

  • General neck pain
  • General back pain
  • Cancer

Treatment options for chronic pain

While medications work for chronic pain in the short-term, most pain management doctors aim to find a long-term approach that doesn’t focus solely on pharmaceutical solutions. Physical therapy can do wonders with chronic pain once the doctor pinpoints the source, and alternative medical treatments such as acupuncture can also have positive results. Other treatments for pain management include:

  • Biofeedback
  • Water therapy
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Dietary audit

What to expect from your first visit to a pain management doctor

In addition to a full physical exam, your doctor will study prior X-rays, CT scans or MRIs, and ask a series of questions to understand your pain better. Questions will include the location and frequency of your pain, as well as description of how it feels (dull, aching, stabbing, tingling, etc.). The doctor will also want to know if the pain occurs during certain activities (during exercise or at rest), whether it is worse in certain positions (standing, sitting, laying down), and whether you notice any other symptoms that correspond with the pain, such as loss of bowel or bladder control. Your doctor will likely ask you to start keeping a pain journal that documents symptoms and patterns to better understand your pain.

Qualities to look for in a pain management doctor

Pain management is often a long-term process, and it’s important to find a pain management doctor you trust to guide you through. While extensive medical experience and compassion are usually a given, there are other specific qualities to look for in a pain management doctor, including the expertise to evaluate patients with difficult pain disorders and thorough understanding of several different diagnostic tests to locate the cause of your pain. You’ll also want a doctor with access to a strong network of outside providers to refer patients for physical therapy, psychological support, or surgical evaluation, and a reputation for appropriately prescribing pain medication. Lastly, it’s crucial that pain management treatment corresponds with each patient’s wishes and belief system, so flexibility in treatment options is also important.

Pain management in San Diego

If you or a loved one is suffering from chronic pain, Pacific Health Systems in San Diego can help and offer chronic pain treatment. We’re committed to providing comprehensive care that is personalized to each patient, and we have helped many patients manage their chronic pain and live fulfilling lives. For more information or to schedule a consultation, fill out our contact form or call us at (619) 267-9257.