How Neurologists Can Help Manage Chronic Pain
Neurology is a branch of medicine which focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses and disorders of the nervous system. Neurologists also have specialized expertise in the body's nerve, muscular and spinal cord systems. As the brain and nerves play a major role in the body's natural pain cycle, neurologists may be consulted to help patients who are suffering from unusually severe pain, chronic pain, and pain with unexplained causes.
Neurologist Qualifications and Specializations
Neurologists have extensive qualifications, including four years of undergraduate study in a pre-med course, four years of medical schooling, at least one year as an intern, and three more years of specialized training in a residency program. These residencies must be undertaken at a recognized and accredited neurology facility.
Even though neurology is already a specialized field, there are additional areas of concentration neurologists can pursue. Patients suffering from chronic pain may be referred to one of the following neurology specialists:
- Clinical neurophysiologists. A neurophysiologist is a doctor who specializes in the relationship between the brain and the rest of the body. They may be able to help patients suffering from pain which is believed to have a neurological rather than physiological cause.
- Pain specialists. There is an entire branch of medicine dedicated to diagnosing, treating and relieving cases of chronic, intense or complex pain which does not respond to front-line methods. You may be referred to a pain specialist if your doctor cannot find the cause of your pain, if your pain does not respond as expected to treatment, or if your pain persists despite the resolution of the underlying condition(s) which caused it.
- Psychosomatic specialists. In medicine, the term "psychosomatic" is used to describe symptoms which do not have an identifiable physical cause, or which are caused by a diagnosable interaction between the brain and the body. The human brain is extraordinarily complex and is not fully understood by scientists. It is capable of things which would seem to lie outside the normal range of experience, and occasionally, those things can cause unpleasant symptoms including pain. These doctors can identify and treat the psychological mechanisms behind such phenomena.
What Conditions Can a Neurologist Treat?
Many neurologists have at least some expertise in pain treatment, though it may be generalized rather than specific. However, there are certain pain-causing illnesses and diseases which make a trip to the neurologist more likely. These conditions include:
- Fibromyalgia. This is a disorder which is believed to be caused by overactive nerves, which transmit pain signals even in the absence of an identifiable pain stimulus. Thus, patients typically experience pain for no apparent reason, which can sometimes be very intense. Lethargy, sleep disruptions and mood imbalances typically accompany the pain symptoms.
- Chronic pain syndrome. This is a general blanket term used to describe cases of pain which last for a period of at least three to six months and continue despite the successful treatment of the pain's underlying cause. It is believed to have both psychological and physiological components.
- Multiple sclerosis. MS is an inflammatory condition which affects many parts of the body, including the nerves, brain and spinal cord. Pain is a major symptom, and neurologists are typically assigned to provide long-term care to MS patients.
- Neuropathy. This term is used to describe pain resulting from nerve damage. Diabetic neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy and peripheral neuropathy are the three most common forms.
If your pain symptoms are particularly intense, or your symptoms last longer than normal or do not seem to have a specific cause, it may be worthwhile to consult a neurologist. They can use a wide range of specialized tests and diagnostic procedures to study your brain activity to discover exactly where the pain impulses are originating. This helps them devise tailored treatment strategies that can bring relief even to patients suffering from complicated forms of chronic pain.