According to the Institute of Medicine, more than 100 million US adults suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain is a pain that doesn’t go away easily, and it can make your life miserable. It can keep you awake at night, make you miss work, make you irritable, keep you away from leisure activities and even cause problems in your personal and social life.
What is chronic pain?
Pain is not uncommon; it is a part of our day to day life. Most kinds of painful conditions are treatable. Your sprained foot heals. Your headache responds to pain killers. Stomach ache is also short-lived. These all are examples of acute or temporary pain. However, when the pain lasts for 3 months or more, it is called chronic pain. Examples include back or neck pain, joint pain, Migraine headaches, surgical pain or pain caused due to cancer or its treatment.
What are some of the unique challenges of chronic pain?
Chronic pain not only bothers you physically, but it also affects your emotional and social wellbeing. People in chronic pain are not able to fully involve in work or enjoy life. Also, some people with chronic pain develop another issue that is even more serious than the pain itself; it is opioid addiction.
According to statistics, every year, more than 300 million prescriptions are written for opioids and around 2 million people abuse these drugs. Although opioids are very effective at treating pain, they are very addictive when used for a long period of time. That’s why these drugs should be used only under the supervision of a physician and for a limited period.
Who treats chronic pain?
Treatment of pain is a complex procedure and it can even cause problems if it is not done by a doctor with special training in pain management. As you know, there are specialist doctors who treat specific conditions like heart disease or cancer, in the same way, there are physicians who specialize in treating pain. They are called pain specialists. They complete 4 years of medical school; then they get trained in a medical specialty like anesthesiology, followed by an extra year of training to become expert in treating chronic pain.
This extensive training and education are essential because the spine and nerves that cause or carry pain signals are very delicate. Also, everyone’s body structure and pain tolerance are different. Therefore, perfection and accuracy are critical in this field. Pain specialists are also highly knowledgeable in using a wide variety of pain medications, which can effectively assuage pain for many patients.
When should you see a pain specialist?
Most patients consult their primary care physicians when they experience any kind of pain. And as you know, most of the painful conditions get resolved by pain medications. However, if you are experiencing pain for a long time and your primary doctor is unable to diagnose the cause of the pain or is unsure how to treat it, you should ask for a referral to a pain specialist.