By Jennifer Lee, MD, Physician at EvergreenHealth Pain Care.
It’s estimated that over 50 million Americans are currently suffering from chronic pain. From arthritis, to nerve and spine pain, or even migraines, many can relate to the debilitating experience of living with constant pain, which for some, can make it difficult to complete everyday tasks.
As a physician who specializes in pain management, I’ve worked with countless patients experiencing a range of chronic pain symptoms who have come to me feeling hopeless. But for those who are suffering, there is hope for finding lasting relief. Pain management is a relatively new specialty in the medical world, which provides patients with a range of treatment options after they’ve exhausted over-the-counter medications, physical therapy or home remedies.
Physicians who specialize in pain management, like myself, receive special training to learn about a variety of causes that contribute to chronic pain, along with minimally invasive innovative treatment options that are constantly emerging. If a patient’s pain lasts longer than three months, we consider this “chronic” pain. Many individuals fall into this category, whether they’re suffering from injuries, auto-immune disorders, or even unexplained pain.
No matter where chronic pain stems from, each type of pain has one thing in common—it affects the person’s life. I’ve seen patients who can’t get adequate sleep because of their pain, and I’ve met people who aren’t even able to leave their house because their pain is so debilitating. Other patients I’ve seen forgo seeing their friends or family because of their pain and their overall mood quickly dwindles.
But today, the science and technology studied by pain management specialists has dramatically expanded the treatment options available to those who are suffering from chronic pain.
Some of the more common treatments include non-opioid medications and localized steroid injections. However, there are so many exciting options like neuromodulation, which sends electrical stimulation to the affected nerves; or spinal stimulation which uses an implanted device to deliver low levels of electricity directly to the spinal cord; and radio frequency ablation (RFA), an outpatient procedure which uses electrical currents to tell nerve tissue to stop sending pain signals, frequently used for lower back, neck or joint pain. Not only are there a number of different treatment options available now, new research in the field of pain management is being conducted every day.
If you’ve experienced pain for longer than three months, I suggest making an appointment with your primary care provider (PCP) who can review your pain symptoms and decide if a referral to a pain management doctor is a good next step. While you don’t always need a referral, most patients I see usually come to me from a referral source and your PCP is a great place to start.
Most often, pain management doctors pick up where your primary care doctor left off. We’ll review any test results and your medical records before determining next steps. Oftentimes, we’ll perform additional exams and tests to find the cause of your pain and learn about other pain management methods you’ve exhausted. It’s not uncommon for patients to experience long-term pain but not understand the cause of their pain. For example, many patients come to me with lower back pain, but don’t understand where in the spine the pain is stemming from and why that pain may have started in the first place.
After determining the source of your pain, we’ll then explore possible long-term treatment options. At this point, I like to learn about the patient’s care preferences—does the idea of taking medication for long periods of time make you feel uneasy? Or do you have a fear of needles? How do you feel about surgical procedures? By understanding your values, we can better decide on the most appropriate treatment for you.
If you struggle with chronic pain, it’s easy to feel like there are no ways to find relief. But with the field of pain management, there’s hope for living a life without constant nagging pain.
To learn more about pain management at EvergreenHealth, please visit www.evergreenhealth.com/ehm/health-services/pain-management.