Should I See a Pain Specialist?


A physician who specializes in pain management might be useful, even if your pain is under control.

First, ask yourself: How well is my pain controlled?

While you likely have to deal with some degree of daily pain, it should not significantly affect your work, family, or leisure activities. If you feel that your pain is too severe or your current pain management plan isn’t working, start by talking to your primary care doctor. It could be that he’s not aware of the extent of nature of your pain and may be able to easily address it by, say, changing your medication or fine-tuning the dose you’re taking.

We all know how short the average doctor’s visit is (less than 10 minutes, according to research), so come prepared to discuss the specifics of your pain: how long you’ve been experiencing it; whether it’s getting worse or otherwise changing over time; your medications and dosages; and anything that triggers your pain or makes it worse or better.

Be sure to ask, too, when you can expect to feel relief from a change in your drug regimen. Opioids work within minutes to an hour, so a new medicine or an increased dose should have effects the same day. Other medicines, such as those that both block seizures and reduce pain, may take weeks to months to have their full effects.

If you’ve already covered this ground and you’re still not getting sufficient relief, that’s a strong argument in favor of seeing a pain specialist. A physician who specializes in pain management might be useful even if your pain is under control, though. She may know of a procedure or treatment that could minimize or eliminate discomfort so you need less medication, or even none at all. For example, if you have a fractured vertebrae you might be a candidate for a kyphoplasty or vertebroplasty, which involves injecting a cement-like substance directly into the bone to harden and strengthen it and even cure the problem altogether.

To locate a pain specialist in your area, contact the American Academy of Pain Management or the American Board of Medical Specialties.

When I see patients as a specialist, I often concur with the decisions of the primary physician, but at times I find changes that could optimize care. And ultimately that is the goal, whether you stick with your primary care physician or opt for a specialist’s opinion: You deserve optimal relief for your pain.


Written by: Sean Harvey, D.O., Pain and Palliative Medicine Service at Lakeland Regional Medicare Center, in Lakeland, Florida
Article Originally Published in: Pain Solutions Magazine – Fall 2009
Photo Credit: Podfoto, courtesy of Stock Free Images


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