Pain management is the branch of medical science that deals with the treatment of chronic pain. Pain is defined by The International Association for the Study of Pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.” In simple terms, pain is an unpleasant physical and emotional experience that is associated with actual, possible or previous injury.
As physicians, we categorize pain into two categories: chronic pain and acute pain. Acute pain is pain lasting for less than 3 months, while chronic pain lasts longer than 3 months. In pain management, we are typically treating patients suffering from chronic pain.
The History of Chronic Pain Management
The roots of pain management began within the specialty of anesthesiology and date back to World War II. An anesthesiologist by the name of Dr. John Bonica recognized the need for ongoing treatment to relieve the pain soldiers suffered from as a result of their injuries on the battlefield. Dr. Bonica began using nerve blocking techniques that had previously been reserved for anesthesia during surgical operations to treat chronic pain.
In 1950 Dr. Bonica established the first multidisciplinary pain management center at the University of Washington in Seattle. The facility has since served as a model for similar pain management facilities around the world. Through the collaboration of physicians from varied medical specialties, the center has pioneered an approach to the treatment of pain that looks at the physical, emotional and social aspects of pain. I had the great privilege and good fortune to train at the University of Washington with Dr. Bonica prior to his death in 1994.
Pain Management Physicians
Not all pain management physicians are created equal. Pain is a complex, debilitating and life altering condition. It impacts patients on a physical, emotional and social level. Due to the complex nature of chronic pain, it is of the utmost importance that pain management physicians have the proper training and board certifications.
Similar to other medical specialties, pain management has a board that oversees the training and certification of physicians in that specialty. While a license to practice medicine is required in all states, most do not require specific training and certification to practice a medical specialty. To become board certified, physicians, like myself, undergo a challenging training program that lasts one year (this is in addition to obtaining an medical license). At the completion of the year, a certification examination is given. The certification examination must be repeated every ten years in order to maintain certification. This ensures that the board certified physicians remain current and updated on all the latest advances in pain management.
Conditions/Treatments for Chronic Pain
The conditions treated by pain management physicians involve virtually every part of the human body. Pain does not discriminate and as a result, pain management physicians treat men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds.
Pain is not limited to one area of the body. In our practice, we treat: low back pain, neck pain, facial pain, headache, abdominal pain, pelvic pain, pain associated with nerve injury and pain associated with shingles just to name a few. We employ specialized techniques to control pain and give the body time to heal; hopefully avoiding the need for surgery.
Treatments offered vary based on the injury/illness and source of the pain. Treatment options range from anti-inflammatory medications, ultrasound/x-ray guided injections, implantation of sophisticated electronic devices that “block” pain signals and surgical intervention. In our office, we attempt to use the most minimally invasive techniques and are always researching and learning about the latest advances in the treatment of pain.
The field of pain management has made great strides since Dr. Bonica began treating wounded servicemen near seventy years ago. Our office understands the implications of pain and we strive to ensure that each patient finds relief and is able to return to pain-free living. If you suffer from chronic pain, call our office for an appointment. We understand. We can help.