What Does a Pain Clinic Do?
Although pain clinics differ in their focus and offerings, most involve a team of health care providers that can help you with a variety of strategies to manage your pain.
These health care providers are likely to include doctors of different specialties as well as non-physician providers specialized in the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. These providers may include psychologists, physical therapists, and complementary and alternative therapists. Together, they will put a pain management plan for you.
Strategies for Pain Relief and Management
At a pain clinic, your therapy plan will be tailored to your specific needs, circumstances, and preferences. Depending on the cause of your pain, treatments may include one or more of the following:
Medications. In many cases, patients are prescribed treatment before receiving other forms of therapy. Medications for pain may include:
- Non-aspirin pain relievers. These drugs, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), relieve minor pain and are sometimes combined with other drugs to provide greater pain relief.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Available over the counter or by prescription, these drugs — including ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) — are used to treat pain and inflammation.
- Corticosteroids. Available only by a prescription, these cortisone-like drugs are used for more severe inflammatory conditions.
- Opioid pain medications. These morphine-like drugs are often prescribed short term for acute pain or for cancer pain. Occasionally, doctors prescribe them for chronic, non-cancer pain.
- Antidepressants. Originally designed to treat depression, these drugs can be useful for relieving certain types of pain. Antidepressants may also promote sleep, which can be difficult when you are in pain.
- Often, medications alone aren’t enough to treat chronic pain. Other treatments may be more effective than medications, and medication may be more effective when combined with other treatments. Other available treatments offered by pain centers may include:
- Injections. Local anesthetics, sometimes combined with a corticosteroid, may be injected around nerve roots or into muscles and joints to relieve irritation, swelling, and muscle spasms.
- Nerve blocks. If a group of nerves, called a ganglion or plexus, causes pain to a specific organ or body region, injections with local anesthetics may be useful for blocking the pain in that area.
- Physical therapy. A physiatrist (doctor specializing in rehabilitation medicine) or physical therapist may prescribe a specially tailored exercise program to increase function and decrease pain. Other physical therapy options at pain clinics may include whirlpool therapy, ultrasound, and deep-muscle massage.
- Electrical stimulation. The most common form of electrical stimulation used in pain management is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a technique that uses a small, battery-operated device to stimulate nerve fibers through the skin. Other implants for pain control use medicine, heat or chemicals.
- Psychological support and counseling. Although pain is a physical sensation, many people in pain suffer emotionally with feelings of anger, sadness, and hopelessness. Dealing with unrelenting pain can affect your ability to hold a job, maintain a home, meet family obligations, and relate to friends and family members. Psychological support, along with medical treatment, can help you manage your condition.
- Surgery. Although sometimes surgery is clearly necessary to relieve a problem that is causing pain, it is often a treatment of last resort. If pain has not responded to any other treatment, surgery on certain nerves may offer relief and allow you to resume normal activities.
Meet Our Patients
What is pain management?
Pain management is a comprehensive approach to diagnosing, treating and controlling pain. It uses a multi-pronged and individualized treatment plan to coordinate safe and effective options that can address the physical, emotional, social, and psychological aspects of pain. In a balanced approach to pain management, people with pain, along with their family members and caregivers, learn to manage the pain in safe, effective, responsible and healthy ways to improve or maintain their overall well-being.
Components of a balanced pain management plan may include:
- minimally-invasive injection-based therapy
- physical therapy and rehabilitation
- psychological counselling
- social support
- other complementary approaches
When medications are necessary, there must be full recognition of potential side effects and appropriate management of the medications.
It is important that individuals afflicted with pain know that they will have to be active participants in their journey from being a patient to a functional person — all with the assistance of their support network. Balanced pain management means a team approach to ensure that people with pain can improve their quality of life, increase function and reduce suffering.
What type of training does a pain management doctor have?
Like other physicians, pain management specialists earn a college degree and then complete four years of medical school. They then spend four more years completing a residency in anaesthesiology.
What can I expect when I see my pain management doctor?
After completing a detailed history and a thorough physical exam, your pain management doctor may order additional tests such as radiographic images (including x-rays, MRIs, etc.) or blood tests. Chronic pain is a complex process that requires a combination of treatments in order to achieve the best results. A multi-pronged treatment plan tailored to the individual patient will be discussed and initiated that may include medications, possible minimally-invasive procedures and/or physical therapy. Pain management requires active joint effort from both the individual suffering from the chronic pain and the healthcare team.
Will my pain be completely gone after treatment?
Each case is unique, and depending on the type and cause of pain, your pain may be eliminated or decreased to a more manageable level.
Will I become addicted to my pain management medications?
Each individual’s likelihood of becoming addicted depends on numerous factors, including the individual’s addiction history. Talk to your doctor about your concerns.
I haven’t been feeling as much pain, should I stop taking my medication?
Do not cease taking your prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor. It is just as important to follow your physician’s instructions for stopping medication as it is while taking medication.
Does an increase in my dosage mean I’m becoming addicted to my medication?
An increase in dosage simply means you are building up a tolerance to the pain medication prescribed. It is normal for your body to build up tolerance over time, and your doctor may change your dosage or type of medication to maintain the effectiveness of your treatment. An increase in tolerance does not mean you are addicted.