You’re hurting. You’ve been hurting for a bit. So why not see a pain doctor. “Aren’t all doctors ‘pain doctors’?,” you ask. Actually, no. The treatment of pain has become its own specialty.
“Seeing a pain physician comes after seeing your primary care physician and usually before seeing a surgeon as a way to treat pain. And often after having surgery too,” says Kenneth Varley, MD, an interventional pain physician with Southern Pain Specialists in Birmingham.
When pain becomes the disease. “When the primary cause of your pain is as good as it’s going to get, then now the pain is the disease,” says Dr. Varley. That’s chronic pain, and that’s what pain doctors excel at treating. He says 70% of his patients come to him suffering from back pain.
Interventional what? Interventional pain physicians (IPP) focus on treatments that don’t rely solely on narcotics, including psychological and behavioral methods, along with medical approaches.
Where does it hurt? ”Our primary function is diagnosis. That seems obvious, right?,” says Dr. Varley, a diplomate of the American Board of Pain Medicine. But IPPs focus on discovering the exact source of the pain, such as a nerve or disk tissue. “Then to prove our diagnosis, we inject an anesthetic into that nerve or area,” he says. “If we’re right, the pain goes away.” If not, they keep looking.
Make it go away. “The first line of pain treatment is usually an injection of steroids, because 80% of pain is caused by inflammation,” says Dr. Varley. He also uses radio frequency to stop nerves from sending pain signals, prescribes medications, and utilizes techniques ranging from intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDET) to laser discectomies.
Isn’t there a pill for that? Possibly. And some types of pain physicians focus on narcotics as their treatment. “But our ideal is to get patients off narcotics,” says Dr. Varley. “Even better is to let us see you before you start on a downward spiral of more and more pain medications.”
Time is not your friend. “A lot of chronic pain is from a failure to treat it early,” stresses Dr. Varley. He says 50% to 60% of the patients he sees could have prevented their chronic pain with early intervention.
So now you know these medical experts exist who focus only on pain relief, find yourself one. Patience is not a virtue when it comes to chronic pain.
by Jane Ehrhardt
This article written and brought to you by BirminghamDoctors.com.