Visiting a pain clinic might seem intimidating at first, especially if you have tried other methods for managing your pain before. At our center, we strive to treat the whole patient rather than just the pain. This means that instead of masking your symptoms, we target the cause of the pain and work to understand your situation and tailor a pain management plan that will work best for you, your symptoms, your medical history, and your lifestyle.
Chronic pain is extremely common in the United States. Around 50-100 million people in our country suffer from chronic pain of some sort at any given time, and more women than men seem to experience it. Estimating the rate of chronic pain is difficult because many sufferers have not sought treatment and some have been misdiagnosed. Chronic pain can have a wide range of causes and respond to a wide range of treatment options. Visiting a pain clinic has helped many patients take control of their pain.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain itself is simply a condition in which the sufferer has persistent, regular pain that is not from an acute injury. Some definitions require the pain to last 6 months or more and come from a physical cause, but not all chronic pain sufferers meet this definition. The pain may come from a cause such as osteoarthritis, but other times it comes from misfiring nerves or has no discernable physical cause at all.
Sufferers of chronic pain range from those who have severe, constant pain to those who experience mild, episodic pain. Some people are incapacitated by their pain while others are only inconvenienced. Headaches, joint pain, and backaches are some of the most common manifestations of chronic pain. Some patients who visit our pain clinic may be caught in an unfortunate chemical cycle where their pain causes anxiety and depression, which then reduces the production of natural painkillers within the body.
Common Causes of Chronic Pain
Conditions such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and nerve damage from previous injury are some of the most common causes of chronic pain. Pain that is ‘leftover’ from previous trauma, whether that was a car accident or cancer treatment, is also common. While acute pain is expected and usually treated with these conditions, chronic pain may not be expected or well managed.
Many patients suffer from chronic pain that has no obvious physical cause. This type of pain may be psychogenic (caused by the mind) or from a complex condition that is not obvious upon examination. Back pain, for example, may come from a combination of many factors, such as poor posture, obesity, and wearing high heels. Doctors at a pain clinic may not be privy to all of this information, and it can be difficult to put it all together.
More women than men suffer from chronic pain, and many doctors hypothesize that this has something to do with the hormones of a woman’s body. Estrogen levels or general hormone flux may cause a woman’s body to feel pain in different ways than men do. Unfortunately, research has also shown that women find it more difficult to get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. It is important for both men and women to be their own advocates in seeking treatment for chronic pain of any kind, and a pain management specialist can help.
Involving a Pain Clinic
Treatment for chronic pain can be different depending on the condition that is known or believed to be responsible. For example, IBS sufferers may change their diet in addition to other pain management techniques. However, pain clinics are typically useful for all sufferers of chronic pain. A pain clinic will usually bring together professionals from different medical specialties who are able to focus solely on dealing with pain or painful conditions.
Some types of treatment for chronic pain are physical, such as acupuncture or electrical stimulation. Prescription drugs are often important in the treatment of chronic pain and may or may not be used as a long-term part of managing the condition. Psychotherapy can be helpful even when the cause of the pain is clearly physical, because patients tend to attach negative emotions to their pain in addition to dealing with the actual sensation. Relaxation techniques, physical therapy, and targeted treatment such as steroid injections for pain related to inflammation are also used.
Whatever the type of treatment used, pain specialists recommend that chronic pain be treated before pain ‘spikes’ occur. Treatment that focuses on keeping pain at low levels at all times rather than only treating when severe pain occurs is overwhelmingly favored. Research has shown that pain increases rates of depression and impedes healing, which is why management after surgery at a pain clinic is so important. It is similarly important when dealing with any condition that causes chronic pain.
Prognosis for Chronic Pain Sufferers
Because the causes can be complex, treatment for chronic pain is often tricky. It is important that sufferers stick to their treatment plan and be willing to try new things when the first method tried doesn’t work. Doctors who are inventive, adaptable, and willing to work with their patients’ needs are invaluable in dealing with this condition.
For some patients, chronic pain cannot be cured. However, treatment can immensely improve the quality of life for the patient. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have conducted research that has found that ‘self-management’ of pain is very important to a successful outcome. They define this as the active engagement of a patient with their treatment plan, such as determining the pace of treatment, communicating openly with health care professionals about their desires and needs, and taking actions to manage the pain outside of medication or visits to the pain clinic.
Contact our office today to learn more about how we can help you manage your chronic pain. Feel free to ask us any questions you might have about diagnostics or about our treatment options. Take the first step toward getting your life back today!