We asked our Doctors to set the record straight and clarify 5 common misconceptions about Pain Management, pain medicine and what we do. Here’s what they had to say:
1) It just entails a doctor writing for pain medications:
Most people have the misconception that pain management specialists primarily and solely write for pain medications as their means of treating acute/chronic pain. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, it is our goal to keep people from requiring chronic dosing of pain medications as this in itself has long term side effects and changes how our bodies work.
Our intention is to start with an accurate diagnosis of the cause of a patient’s main source of pain and to then implement interventional procedures that can either treat or moderate a patient’s pain. The idea is to either resolve or, at the least, temporize a patients level of chronic pain so that they have more tolerance to physical therapy and require less daily pain medication in the future.
Another common misconception is that a Pain Physician’s use of the term “pain medication” refers to controlled narcotic substances. It is always our initiative to use a combination of different types of medications which are not necessarily narcotics.
As Pain Physicians we avoid the initiation of these pain medications as narcotics carry inherent risks and can become a long term burden on the patient.
There are certain cases where patients have causes of pain that cannot be treated with interventional procedures, and in these few cases we then explore different types and combinations of medications.
We reserve the use of narcotics, for a short time, for cases where procedures do not provide adequate relief, however, hoping not to introduce controlled substances on a long term basis.
2) It’s only for people with neck and back problems:
When people think of pain management, they usually first think of neck and low back pain limited to the spine. Although this can describe a majority of our patients, we also treat many other sites and sources of pain such as chronic headaches, knee, shoulder, abdominal, pelvic pain and facial pain.
We can also treat peripheral neuropathic pain such as that caused by diabetes and chemotherapy or postherpetic neuralgia as a result of having had shingles.
3) It’s a last resort:
Unfortunately, most people come to pain management after having dealt with chronic pain for a long time and seeing physicians whose therapies might be limited to pain medications. Chronic pain along with prolonged use of narcotics causes multiple changes in the body such as changes in normal levels of circulating hormones and sleep cycles. Therapeautic interventions work best the sooner we see a patient as these other physiologic changes have not yet occurred and there is less to reverse.
These chronic physiologic changes can cause mood changes along with how our bodies perceive pain, sometimes making us more sensitive to painful sensations. In short, seeking a consult with a pain specialist as soon as pain persists is the best way to manage your pain in the long term.
4) Pain procedures are only a short term fix and only mask the pain until it returns:
In many cases this statement is actually true. Our goal in interventional pain management is to alleviate or minimize the pain that a patient feels on a daily basis so that they can be more functional and participate in modalities such as physical therapy. Our purpose in pain management is to prepare a patient’s body for building strength so that there are less acute and severe painful episodes.
Although sometimes we are unable to relieve pain completely, we can provide intermittent episodes of relief and eliminate the need for surgery if the patient is a poor surgical candidate or chooses not to undergo surgery.
The longevity of the pain relief a patient experiences depends on the cause of their pain and available therapies that can be offered to the patient. Although some of our therapies do not give prolonged relief, some do.
It is all on a case by case basis, and depends on the age and pathology of a patient’s pain. It is important that patients get assessed by an interventional pain physician to determine if there is a long term relief option for their source of pain.
In many cases, the earlier a patient seeks treatment for their pain the longer their pain relief experience may be.
5) All pain management specialists are the same, if you’ve tried one, there is no use exploring your options with another:
As with any specialty, outcomes are based on a physician’s individual skill and training. Because pain management is an evolving specialty, there are many new procedures that could be introduced to patient’s treatment plan.
Sometimes patients have a failed procedure or had a bad experience and assume that any future interventions will continue to be unfruitful. This is not usually the case. Therefore, it is important to do your research.
Seeking a more interventional driven pain physician who might have more skill or experience in different therapies may be an option to better treat your pain.