What is Pain Management: Everything You Need to Know
Pain is one of the most relatable aspects of the human experience. Whether it is stubbing your toe, breaking a bone, or living with chronic pain, everyone has to deal with and figure out how to manage it.
There are many different types of pain and subsequent treatment options, making it difficult to know which solutions are best for you. That is where a pain management specialist comes in. In honor of Pain Awareness Month 2021, we are going in-depth on pain and how pain management doctors can keep you healthy and whole.
What is Pain Management?
Simply put, pain management is the branch of medicine concerned with identifying and reducing pain. Due to the vast array of possible causes for pain, this is a multidisciplinary field. When receiving pain management care, your treatment is a collaborative effort between several specialist providers who tailor treatment to a patient’s needs. Currently, there is no standardized set of disciplines grouped within pain management. The American Academy of Pain Medicine dictates that patients with pain should work with a coordinating physician to facilitate treatment between specialists. Specialists can include disciplines as diverse as neurology, rheumatology, and anesthesiology. Those suffering from either chronic or psychogenic pain —nociceptive or neuropathic pain prolonged by psychological factors— are often included under the pain management umbrella. A psychiatrist may also be in the medical team to help deal with any accompanying depression or anxiety.
Acute pain is a normal function of the nervous system, alerting you to possible injury or bodily harm. It is short-term, typically lasting from a few moments to several weeks. Acute pain can be mild or severe but gradually resolves as an injury heals.
If the pain lasts more than a few months, it is then considered chronic pain. In acute pain management, the causes fall into two main groups: spontaneous insult or trauma and elective or planned procedures.
Spontaneous Insult or Trauma
Spontaneous insult or trauma refers to varying levels of discomfort or pain due to random physiological reactions or accidents. Mild spontaneous pain can include headaches, upper respiratory infection, or aches and soreness from physical exertion. Examples of more severe spontaneous pain are a deep cut, a sprained ankle, or a bone fracture. Highly traumatic incidents such as third-degree burns or high-speed vehicle collisions also fall under this category and can develop into chronic pain if not adequately addressed. You can usually address mild pain with rest, ice, compression, elevation (typically shortened to RICE), or over-the-counter analgesics. More significant physical trauma may require outpatient care or splinting but will usually heal with a combination of RICE and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The most severe spontaneous traumas may require an extended hospital stay, with prescribed stronger analgesics and even opioids.
Elective or Planned Procedures
‘Planned’ acute pain refers to the pain and discomfort associated with medical procedures from the minimally invasive to major operations. Mild examples include office procedures like vaccinations, taking blood, or getting a catheter.
Procedures such as same-day dental work, laparoscopic surgery, or minimally invasive joint treatments may cause higher pain levels. Severely painful procedures include joint replacement, open abdominal surgery, or other surgeries requiring inpatient stays.
Doctors will often treat mild acute pain from procedures with topical anesthetic, lidocaine, or ice. For more invasive treatments, if simple analgesics aren’t sufficient to reduce patient discomfort, opioids may be used for no more than 6 to 8 doses. The most severe pain due to highly invasive procedures may require a combination of analgesics and more potent steroids, possibly beginning even before the surgery.
Recent numbers from the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain place the rate of US adults living with chronic pain at just over 1 in 5. Distinct from acute pain, chronic pain is a major medical condition with far more complexities and complications. Chronic pain can result from a wide range of factors, last three or more months, and drastically reduce quality of life.
Potential causes of chronic pain can include the after-effects of past traumatic injuries, congenital conditions, or age-related health issues. Other causes can consist of long-term diseases such as cancers and disorders such as fibromyalgia. Due to the diverse and highly variable causes of pain, doctors will conduct a series of diagnostic exams to determine the root cause of your pain and design the best treatment plan for your needs.
Among the conditions that can cause chronic pain are:
- Herniated discs
- Spinal stenosis
- Facet joint pain
- Previous injuries
- Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)
- Trigeminal Neuralgia
Chronic Pain Management
For chronic pain, the goal of pain management is to minimize pain, as eliminating the pain entirely is likely not possible. Still, careful pain management allows for restored bodily functions and an improved quality of life, creating a far better situation for patients.
There are various treatments for chronic pain, and a pain management specialist will help select the best one for a patient based on their condition. Specialists can support patients with their knowledge of specific anatomical and physiological functions. Common treatments for chronic pain include the following:
- Medications such as over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or more potent drugs such as corticosteroids or opioids as needed.
- Injections to block nerve signals, relieving pain and inflammation. Injections are a highly effective treatment, as they can access the affected area directly.
- Electrical Stimulation Therapy is a safe and non-invasive process by which a device strapped to the body delivers shocks to nerves targeting the source of pain.
- Surgery is for the most severe cases when less invasive procedures have not been successful. Examples of this kind of surgery include hip replacements, carpal tunnel surgery, and spine surgery. Surgery can restore function, although sometimes partially restricted.
Access Advanced Pain Management with SI Ortho
Comprehensive pain management providers such as SI Ortho will work with a range of specialists to provide a single access point for all your pain management needs. Our pain center allows us to offer extensive in-house services, ensuring that your pain management is focused and truly addresses your unique needs.
Our physicians are affiliated with some of the best surgical locations across Long Island and Queens & Brooklyn. Our partner surgical centers include Mercy Medical Center, East Hills Surgical Center, and North Queens Surgical Center, and many others.
Join us today and get the pain management care you deserve.
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Posted in: Awareness Month