Chronic pain can be an all-encompassing experience. Once you’ve determined that you have a problem with chronic pain, the next step is to determine what to do about it.
Even a cursory search online reveals numerous pain physicians who seemingly offer the same services. How can you tell who is trustworthy and experienced, and who is not?
This is something that Dr. Nocerini, pain specialist with Physician Partners of America in Dallas, TX, has had experience answering patient questions about.
Below he offers some insight into what to consider when choosing a pain doctor.
Question: I’m in pain, but I’m not sure if I need to see a specialist. How will I know?
Dr. Nocerini: “A pain specialist can evaluate your pain and tell you what types of treatments may be the most effective. Most pain is temporary and self-limiting. It will improve in a short amount of time with basic measures, such as over the counter medications and rest. Other treatments may include prescription medications and physical therapy, but sometimes pain is resistant to these basic measures. If you have tried basic treatments without relief, it may be a good idea to see a pain specialist. Pain specialists provide more advanced medication management and interventional procedures, such as nerve blocks, joint injections, epidural injections, and other procedures such as spinal cord stimulation. If you have seen a spine surgeon or orthopedic surgeon and you were told that you were not a surgical candidate, a pain specialist may be able to help. If you’re currently under treatment for any type of pain without improvement, a pain specialist may be able to help.”
Q: What does a pain specialist do?
Dr. Nocerini: “Pain specialists treat pain in multiple ways. Pain can be treated by medications, procedures, such as injections or nerve blocks, physical therapy, and psychological counseling. Pain specialists can assist in localizing the source of pain. Pain specialists treat chronic back pain, neck pain, shoulder, knee and hip pain, headache, chronic pelvic pain, and abdominal pain. Not all pain specialists will treat all types of pain, but they can refer you to a pain specialist who focuses on your specific type of pain.”
Q: What should I look for when researching a pain doctor?
Dr. Nocerini: “When researching a pain specialist, be sure that your doctor has had fellowship training specifically in pain management. A fellowship is extra time spent after residency to obtain additional specialized training. Make sure it is an ACGME accredited fellowship. ACGME stands for the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, a non-profit organization that reviews and accredits graduate medical education programs in the United States. Also look for board certification in pain management. Board certification is evidence that your pain physician has met an additional level of standards after fellowship training. Look for a pain doctor that treats pain with multiple modalities, not just medications. Pain can be treated most effectively with a combination of therapies, such as injections, physical therapy, counseling, and occasionally referral to other specialists when indicated.”