Finding a pain specialist is an important, even if your pain is under control.
First, ask yourself: How well is my pain controlled?
Start with your primary care doctor
When you have chronic pain, managing it becomes a daily priority. While you might have a good handle on it, pain 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 or she is not aware of the extent of your pain, and may be able to easily address it by making small changes, like changing or fine-tuning your medication, for example. Your primary care doctor may also refer you to a pain specialist, who can better treat any painful symptoms.
When you’re at the doctor’s office, the average time that you spend actually speaking with the physician is less than 10 minutes. Because if this, it’s important to maximize your time. 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
- Anything that triggers your pain or makes it worse or better
Also be sure to ask 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 take effect on the same day. Other medicines, such as those that both block seizures and reduce pain, may take weeks to months to take full effect.
When should I see a pain specialist?
If you have already taken the steps listed above and are still not experiencing sufficient relief, it might be a good time to see a pain specialist. Even if your pain is under control, it is still a good idea to see a pain specialist. The specialist may know of a procedure or treatment that could minimize or eliminate discomfort, potentially reducing or eliminating your reliance upon medication.
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, potentially even curing the problem altogether.
It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion. Additionally, if you have an established relationship with a pain specialist, it will be easier to schedule an appointment if you are in need of pain help in the future.
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 (edited in 2017)