What is Pain Medicine?
Pain medicine is a specialty closely related to, but separate from, anesthesiology. Whereas anesthesiologists typically work to relieve a patient’s pain during surgery or another medical procedure, pain medicine specialists work to relieve their patients’ pain as they are out living their lives.
Pain medicine specialists treat patients who have acute or chronic pain. The pain may be a symptom of their problem (e.g. they are hurting because they were in a car accident), or the pain may be the problem itself (e.g. they are having migraine headaches). The pain specialist’s goal is to prevent pain from interfering with a patient’s quality of life.
Pain medicine specialists must have a thorough understanding of the physiology of pain, how it is caused, and what effects it has on the body. A good pain medicine specialist is able to evaluate patients who are hurting and who may not always be able to communicate their problems very well. To gain more information about their patients’ condition, pain medicine physicians can interpret specialized imaging tests. Using this information, pain medicine specialists must be able to prescribe a balanced treatment plan.
There are several treatments that pain medicine specialists may use to alleviate pain for their patients. They can prescribe medication, perform certain procedures, and refer patients to rehabilitation services. Often they will recommend multiple treatment methods to be used simultaneously. Some of these pain treatments include:
Alternative medicine therapies, such as biofeedback, acupuncture, and hypnosis
Being in pain takes away your enjoyment of life. It can lead to depression and stop you from engaging in even everyday activities. Because pain can’t be seen or tested for, it is sometimes overlooked by others. A pain medicine specialist works to safely restore your quality of life.
Neurology is the study of the brain and nervous system, including the spinal cord and nerves. Disorders of the nervous system can affect many parts of the body, and a neurological exam must be quite thorough. A neurologist examining a new patient will check for any issues with:
motor skills (the way your brain and muscles work together)
sensory skills (sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell)
coordination and balance
changes in mood or behavior
A neurologist can order different kinds of tests to check the function of the brain and nerves. These tests may include a head CT scan (a type of 3-dimensional x-ray), an electroencephalogram (which measures the electrical impulses inside the brain), an MRI (a detailed image of the brain or spinal cord), or electromyography (which uses electricity to test nerve function). The results of the exam and the tests help neurologists diagnose and form treatment plans for disorders like multiple sclerosis, tremors, stroke, and migraine headaches.
Some neurological problems, such as certain brain tumors, may require surgical treatment. Since neurologists do not perform surgery, they will refer patients who need operations to a surgical subspecialist, such as a neurosurgeon. Beyond surgery, a neurologist might recommend any of the following treatments:
medication (such as interferon for MS or topiramate for migraines)
laser therapy (class IV laser treatment is sometimes used to alleviate peripheral neuropathy pain)
physical therapy (stretches and exercises can increase balance and range of motion, helping patients to move more easily and with less pain)
Therapies such as these can improve quality of life for patients dealing with neurological disorders. Neurologists help their patients sense and interact with the world at their very best.
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