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.
Currently in medical care in the United States, there are four main primary care specialties: family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and geriatrics. Internal medicine is primary care for adults, pediatrics is primary care for children and infants, and geriatrics is primary care for seniors. Family medicine, the broadest specialty, is primary care for all ages.
A family medicine physician is a medical ‘home base’ for patients. They treat all ages, all sexes, all organs, and all diseases. They can see every member of the family, from birth through old age. This allows family medicine doctors to develop long-term relationships with their patients and to understand how their patients’ role in the family affects their health. They can provide check-ups, immunizations, screening services, gynecological exams and obstetric care, routine health care, and health counseling. When more specialized care is needed, a family medicine doctor can refer their patients to appropriate specialists. They can become educators and advocates for their patients in the sometimes overwhelming health care system.
As health care changes in this country, family medicine is a growing specialty for families and individuals who are seeking more personalized health care and a more personal relationship with their physician.
Geriatrics is the subspecialty of internal medicine that provides primary care to older adults. Physical health tends to decline with age, and geriatricians work to manage such age-related concerns as chronic illness, frailty, multiple medications, and declining mental health to keep seniors as active and independent as possible.
Some of the most common concerns seen by a geriatrician include:
Mobility issues, including the need for canes and walkers, as well as preventing falls
Osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones, which affects as many as a quarter of all men and half of all women over fifty
Loss of hearing or vision
Incontinence, or the inability to control one’s bladder
Memory loss, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
A geriatrician may also provide their patients with comprehensive care that includes checking on their social health. Seniors are at increased risk for poverty, loneliness, abuse, and injuries in the home. As part of their health care, a geriatrician may inquire about family support, living conditions, or the ability of a patient to perform daily self-care tasks.
In some cases, a geriatrician may serve as an advisor to other physicians on a specific case or condition. However, most of the time geriatrics is a primary care specialty, and geriatricians provide routine health care to the older patients they work with.
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