Doctors Who Specialize in Pain Relief
If you're suffering from severe or long-term pain, or if your pain is not responding well to conventional treatment, you may be referred to a pain management specialist. These doctors have studied advanced techniques for managing and relieving pain, and they employ a team of medical assistants who support their efforts through the administration and refinement of treatment protocols.
Pain is a very complex bodily response, with both neurological and physiological components. As such, pain management specialists use techniques to address pain mechanisms in both the body and the brain in their efforts to treat patients.
Classification of Pain
To help guide your treatment, doctors will classify your pain according to its cause, presentation and severity. Some of the terms you may encounter as your pain is diagnosed and classified include:
- Mild. This type of pain is bothersome, but does not prevent the patient from taking performing his or her daily activities.
- Moderate. With moderate pain, the patient will not be able to engage in or complete certain tasks, and the pain may result in temporary disabilities.
- Severe. Severe pain incapacitates the patient, making him or her largely unable to function normally. The goal of treatment is to bring the pain under control and return the patient to a more normalized state.
- Acute. Acute pain is the direct result of a diagnosable injury. It tends to be the easiest form of pain to manage, though it can sometimes linger after the injury has healed, making management more difficult.
- Chronic. Long-term, lingering pain can result from an injury which has not fully healed or will never fully heal, or it sometimes persists without any specific, identifiable cause. Known as chronic pain syndrome, the latter case can be very challenging to treat, and often requires a multidisciplinary treatment plan.
Types of Pain Management Specialists
The type of specialist you will be referred to depends on the nature of your pain. Some of the medical professionals who specialize in pain relief include:
- Neurologists. The nervous system plays a major role in the body's pain response mechanism, and many cases of long-term and chronic pain have a significant neurological component. Thus, a neurologist may investigate patterns in the patient's brain responses to determine where the pain signals are coming from. With that information, a highly specialized and targeted treatment protocol may then be used.
- Physiatrists. A physiatrist is a rehabilitation specialist, and you may be referred to one if your pain has been caused by a major injury with a complex healing pattern. Physiatrists and their medical assistants, who typically include specially trained nurses as well as physical and occupational therapists, can create rehab programs to help you recover from major injuries and achieve lasting or permanent relief from the pain they cause.
- Orthopedic doctors. An orthopedic doctor specializes in the body's musculoskeletal system, which is an intricate and interdependent network of parts that can play a major role in the pain response cycle. If your doctor suspects that your pain has a muscular or skeletal cause, you will likely be referred to an orthopedic doctor. Orthopedic surgeons are specialists who concentrate on medical procedures intended to manipulate the musculoskeletal system to achieve pain relief and injury healing.
- Neurosurgeons. A neurosurgeon, or brain surgeon, may be called upon in particularly problematic or complex cases.
Note that surgery is considered a last resort to relieve chronic pain, and that it is generally only used when the pain can be attributed to an injury that failed to heal properly or is continuing to cause the patient discomfort. Surgery carries many inherent risks, and doctors do not want to expose patients to these risks unless all other avenues have been exhausted first.