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Pain Management: When is it Time to See a Doctor?

Living with pain can put a huge stress not only on your physical body but also your emotional wellbeing and with so many treatment options available, it may seem impossible to figure out where to start. If you’ve tried natural remedies that didn’t heal the pain or prescription medications that left you feeling groggy, maybe it’s time to try something new. Advances in pain management are being made every day and pain management doctors are receiving advanced training and certifications for management and treatment of pain conditions. Understanding the types of pain, when to see a doctor for pain, and the available treatment options can help you and your doctor find the best option for pain management and restoring quality of life.

Types of Pain

There are five main types of pain which include acute, chronic, neuropathic, nociceptive, and radicular pain. Acute pain generally refers to a sudden, sharp pain usually associated with an injury such as a broken bone or sprained ligament. Acute pain is generally self-limiting and heals within a period of less than three months with strict rest and the aid of over the counter medications. Chronic pain is intermittent, long-term, and/or lifelong pain that results from poor healing of an acute injury or chronic health condition such as autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, or arthritis. Chronic pain generally refers to ongoing pain that lasts for greater than 3-6 months and often persists for a lifetime. Neuropathic pain, nociceptive pain, and radicular pain refer to pain caused by damage to the nerves, muscles, and compression of the spinal nerve respectively. All three of these pain types can be either acute or chronic and determining the root cause of the pain will help determine the right course of treatment.

When to See a Doctor for Pain

Cases of mild, acute pain like a skinned knee or pulled muscle rarely require a visit to the doctor, but cases of pain lasting 3 months or longer may require medical attention to alleviate symptoms. Although each person experiences pain differently, it’s generally a good rule of thumb to seek medical attention if pain interferes with daily activities. A few indications that it’s time to see a doctor include canceling plans due to pain, being unable to sleep at night, little or no change in symptoms with the use of over the counter medications, or limited range of motion in the affected area. Additionally, patients with severe, acute pain or injury or any form of chronic pain lasting over three months should seek medical intervention with a pain management specialist. Most pain management specialists do not require a referral, so patients can skip a visit to their general practitioner and get back on the track to healing. 

Preparing for a Visit and Questions to Ask a Pain Management Doctor

Before visiting a pain management specialist, patients should make sure they are well prepared to explain the severity of their symptoms and ask any follow up questions that may aid in treatment. One of the best ways to prepare for the visit is to keep a pain diary. The diary should include daily observations of pain detailing the type of pain sensation felt, duration of pain, or if the pain is felt during certain movements or activities. Additionally, patients should ensure that they bring a list of current natural, over the counter, and prescription medications and relevant test results. Patients should be prepared to have an open discussion with their physician to determine the goal of treatment. A trained pain management physician should be able to answer questions like, “have you seen this before in other patients?” or “who else will be involved in managing my pain?” Treatment for chronic pain is often a multimodal approach involving multiple doctors and specialists. Developing an open and honest relationship with your physician can aid in determining the right course of treatment for managing your pain.

Treatment for Chronic Pain

Treatment options for pain vary widely and are dependent on the type of pain, duration, and any other underlying causes or illnesses. Available options for managing pain include homeopathic remedies, over the counter or prescription medications, injectable medications, nerve blocks, physical therapy, surgical procedures, or a combination of these treatments. Pain management doctors have advanced training specializing in evaluation, diagnosis, and management or treatment of pain and can guide patients to the appropriate treatments for their condition. They will provide client education on what the procedure entails, what level of relief patients can expect from treatment, and any potential side effects of the treatment. 

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