When pain interferes with your quality of life, it may be time to see a specialist
By Nicole Connor
(February 17, 2011) Pinellas Park, Fla. — Imagine being in pain for months or even years, unable to get relief no matter what you try. Normally, pain is simply the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. When we break a bone or fall sick with the flu, it’s perfectly normal to feel pain and discomfort until our body heals. But for millions of Americans who suffer from chronic pain, the discomfort simply doesn’t go away. For these sufferers, a more specific approach is needed to treat the pain. So how do you know when the pain is normal and when it may be time to visit a specialist?
Acute vs. Chronic Pain
“Before considering a visit to a pain specialist, you have to consider the kind of pain you have,” says Charles Friedman, D.O., pain specialist at Pain Relief Centers in Pinellas Par. “Acute pain is perfectly normal. This is the pain that comes with an injury, starts suddenly and often goes away quickly. It can be managed fairly easily and will get better on its own as your body starts to heal.” For those with acute pain, an over-the-counter pain reliever or visit to a primary care physician can generally help alleviate the pain.
Chronic pain, however, is much more complex. It can come and go, range in severity and ultimately become a disease itself. “Chronic pain can last for months or even years,” says Friedman. “It can take an emotional toll on the sufferer and can even change the nervous system, causing more sensitivity to pain and making the condition worse. When the pain is to this level, it may be time to talk to your doctor about being referred to a pain specialist.”
Why A Pain Specialist
Pain management specialists are experts in diagnosing and treating chronic pain. They do a complete physical exam to determine what is causing the pain, then design the best plan for you to alleviate your pain and give you back your quality of life. The specialist works closely with your primary care and referring physician to help you return to everyday activities without significant reliance on medication or a need for surgical measures.
“Pain management specialists are trained to recognize the complex nature of pain,” says Friedman. “We approach the problem from multiple directions and focus on the whole person, not just one area of the body, in order to assess and treat those suffering from pain.”
When to Transition to a Specialist
Friedman suggests considering a specialist if you have suffered from pain for longer than what is reasonably expected, or if other treatment options have failed to alleviate your pain, as these symptoms may suggest you suffer from chronic pain. Certain conditions may also require further care to manage the pain, including arthritis, back/ neck pain, nerve pain and migraine headaches. A patient suffering from chronic pain or other pain-causing condition would need to consult their primary care doctor or other physician in order to be referred to a pain specialist.
Talk to your primary care or other physician about a referral if:
• You’ve had mild to severe pain lasting three or more months, but are unsure why.
• You feel depressed and unable to enjoy the activities you love.
• You still suffer pain even though a previous illness or injury has healed.
• The pain makes it difficult for you to sleep.
• Other treatment options have stopped working or the pain worsens despite them.
While treatment by a pain specialist may not be appropriate for everyone, for those suffering from chronic pain, it may be the best way to improving your quality of life. So talk to your doctor and start on the road to a better, more comfortable life.