Contrary to popular belief, the body has various pain management systems and is neurochemically unique in its expression of pain. The physiology and pathophysiology of these systems are complex, which may explain why there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to effectively treating pain.
Undiagnosed pain conditions not only present difficulties for patients, but for present-day medical practitioners as well. If you have been enduring pain for a long time, you want to see it end. Seeing a pain specialist may be your best option.
Dr. Brandon Claflin of Oklahoma, a physician specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) with subspecialty board certification in pain medicine, was interviewed by Healthiack, a health education website dedicated to helping people make informed decisions about their health and well-being. Healthiack asked Dr. Claflin what a pain specialist does, and how he can help people suffering from chronic pain. Read his response below.
What is a Pain Specialist?
A pain specialist is a physician with extensive training in general medicine and pain management. Pain specialists can be found in many different specialties, ranging from anesthesiology to neurology. Still, we always have one skill in common—we are considered experts in pain relief and management. Pain specialists are often referred to as “physiatrists,” which is, in a way, short for “physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists.” These doctors treat various conditions and diseases, including back pain, arthritis, headaches, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
We know how to diagnose and treat all types of chronic pain. We use a variety of methods to determine if your pain is caused by an underlying illness or condition, such as cancer or kidney disease. If it is not, we will work with you to find out what treatment will work best for you.
What Kind of Education Does a Pain Specialist Receive?
The training of a pain specialist is quite different from that of a general practitioner. General practitioners principally will have received at least four years of medical school plus one or two years of residency in internal medicine. They then will complete specialty training in the area they choose to practice.
A pain specialist goes through the same basic training as a general practitioner, but then completes an additional year-long fellowship in pain management. This involves learning about all aspects of chronic pain and its treatment, including pharmacology, diagnostics, and psychosocial interventions.
In addition, many states require pain specialists to have certification from the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, which requires passing an extensive exam after completing other specific educational requirements.
What is the Skill Set of a Pain Specialist?
The most critical skill set for a pain specialist is one learned with experience and training: the ability to communicate with people who are suffering from pain. The ability to listen to their concerns, their worries, and their fears is paramount.
Understanding how patients think about pain and how they cope with it is also essential. This includes learning about the various methods that patients use to manage pain, such as medication, physical therapy, or other treatment options; and what role friends and family members play in helping them deal with their condition.
Other skills of a pain specialist will vary depending on the type of practice but usually include the following:
1. Diagnosing Chronic Pain
The diagnosis of chronic pain is often challenging, since it has many different causes. It requires a thorough understanding of your medical history, including past surgeries, injuries, or illnesses. We will also check for other possible sources of pain, such as poor posture or arthritis in the joints, that could be contributing to your discomfort.
2. Prescribing Medication
Pain specialists have access to a wide range of drugs that can help manage your condition, including anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil®) and opioids like morphine and oxycodone (OxyContin®). Depending on your situation, we may recommend one type of medicine over another.
How Do You Know if You Need to See a Pain Specialist?
Before seeing a pain specialist, knowing the difference between chronic and acute pain is primary. Acute pain is a normal response to an injury or illness and usually goes away with time. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is long-lasting and tends to get worse over time. It can be hard to know whether your chronic pain is manageable or an indication of something more serious. Therefore, if you have chronic pain that affects your ability to function normally and perform daily activities, it’s time to see a pain specialist. Chronic pain can make it difficult for you to do your job or care for your loved ones. If pain is interfering with your daily life in this way, seek help promptly.
How to Know if Your Pain Specialist Is Qualified to Treat Your Condition
The pain specialist you choose to treat your condition should be well-trained and experienced. A medical degree is a minimum requirement, but some pain doctors have extra training in pain management. Ask about the doctor’s training and experience with your specific condition. If your doctor does not have training in treating your condition, he may be able to refer you to someone who does.
It’s also important to ask about the doctor’s approach to treating your pain. Some doctors may use only one type of medication, while others may use several drugs combined with rehabilitation therapy and other strategies. As I’ve said in my previous interviews, “detailed history is important.” We need to know the true medical history of our patients. The patient’s medical history allows us to make an accurate diagnosis, provide the correct treatment options, and improve patient care. Failure to perform this may result in misdiagnosis or prolonged illness.
As you can see, pain specialists play a critical role in the treatment of chronic and recurring pain. Whether you need medical help or know someone who does, be sure to keep these healthcare providers in mind. They can help bridge the gap between chronic and recurring pain and recovery for the patient.
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