Q&A: Pain Medicine




What is an anesthesiologist’s role in pain medicine?

The anesthesiologist frequently heads a team of other specialists and physicians who work together to help you manage your pain. The team works together to evaluate your condition, then they develop a treatment plan designed just for you.

What type of training does a pain medicine physician have?

Like other physicians, anesthesiologists earned a college degree and then completed four years of medical school. They spent four more years learning the medical specialty of anesthesiology and pain medicine during residency training. Many anesthesiologists who specialize in pain medicine receive an additional year of fellowship training to become a "subspecialist," or an expert in treating pain. Some also have done research, and many have special certification in pain medicine through the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA). The ABA is the only organization recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties to offer special credentials in pain medicine.

When would I need to see a pain medicine specialist?

People develop pain for many reasons. Pain from a recent surgery, injury or medical illness is called acute pain. In many cases, this pain can be managed immediately and will usually get better in a short time. For more serious cases, however, your primary care physician may ask a pain medicine physician to help manage your pain while you are healing.

If your pain persists after the healing process should be over, you might have what is called chronic pain. If the current treatment you are receiving stops working or your pain begins to get worse over time, your primary care physician may suggest that you see a pain medicine physician.

Cancer pain is another condition that can be managed by a pain medicine physician while the patient continues to receive cancer treatment. The pain can be due to cancer surgery or treatment procedures, including radiation therapy and chemotherapy, or the tumor itself.

What does a pain medicine physician do? Can these physicians find out why I hurt?

Pain medicine specialists are experts at diagnosing why you are having pain as well as treating the pain itself. Some of the more common pain problems they manage include arthritis, back and neck pain, cancer pain, nerve pain, migraine headaches, shingles, phantom limb pain for amputees and pain caused by AIDS.

Pain medicine physicians will development a treatment plan after a thorough investigation of your condition:

  • The pain medicine physician will work closely with your primary care physician.
  • Pain medicine physicians will review your medical records and X-rays as needed.
  • They will ask you to describe your pain in detail, such as where it hurts, for how long, what makes the pain worse or what makes it feel better.
  • They may ask you to fill out a detailed questionnaire that helps them to assess the impact that your pain is having on your lifestyle and if it is interfering with your daily activities. They will do a complete physical examination on you. They may need to order other tests and will then review all of their findings to determine what is causing your pain and how the problem can be corrected.

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The ASA does not employ physician anesthesiologists on staff and cannot respond to patient inquiries regarding specific medical conditions or anesthesia administration. Please direct any questions related to anesthetics, procedures or treatment outcomes to the patient’s anesthesiologist or general physician.