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What Is a Pain Management Doctor?

Pain Management Doctor Gears Treatment Towards Relieving Pain

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Updated July 06, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Background of a Pain Management Doctor

A pain management doctor must first become a medical doctor (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) and licensed in the state where they will practice. They are also usually certified by a board governing their specialty.

Focus of a Pain Management Doctor

A pain management doctor focuses on your ability to function despite living with chronic pain. Their goal is to help you manage pain so that the quality of your life improves. You should be able to perform your usual daily living activities, work activities, and leisure activities with pain under control -- at least, that's the goal.

A pain management doctor utilizes various treatment modalities to control chronic pain. Primary care doctors prescribe and use some of the same treatment modalities, but a pain management doctor is solely focused on pain control. When a primary doctor finds it difficult to bring a patient's pain under control, that's usually when a referral is made to the specialist.

Being Assessed by a Pain Management Doctor

The pain management doctor will attempt to create an optimal treatment plan for you. He will start by assessing what treatments you have already tried. He will want to know what your circumstances were when you first experienced pain, what brings on an increase in your pain level, and what brings about a decrease. He will also ask about what your goals are for yourself -- and how far away you currently are from your goals.

He will do a physical examination, and if necessary, imaging studies will be ordered. He will try to get a complete picture of your situation before making treatment recommendations. Assuming you have already tried oral pain medications, the doctor may use more sophisticated devices to achieve a therapeutic level for your pain medications. He may use a pain pump or an implantable device. Over time, the pain management doctor may change the dose of your medication, and add or subtract various pain control techniques. It all will depend on how well you are responding to treatment.

Treatment Modalities Used by Pain Management Doctors

There is a wide array of treatment modalities used to manage pain. You likely know about some pain medications -- but there are many for you to try. Also, how they are delivered (for example, IV versus oral) may provide a steadier, continuous level of pain management. There are also anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids that, when used appropriately, help manage pain.

Your pain management doctor may be more likely to tread into the area of alternative medicine than your primary doctor. Hypnosis, meditation, biofeedback, and acupuncture may be considered. If everything has been tried and a joint replacement is your last-resort option, your orthopedic surgeon may consult with your pain management doctor to enhance your recovery.

The Bottom Line

To locate a pain clinic, check those that have credentials through the American Academy of Pain Management, or check out the American Pain Society's Clinical Centers of Excellence.

Sources:

American Academy of Pain Management. The Mission. Accessed 2/28/11. http://www.aapainmanage.org/

Role of the Pain Management Specialist. S.A. Thomas, D.O. 1/12/10. http://www.spineuniverse.com/treatments/pain-management/role-pain-management-specialist

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