Find the right professionals for your pain-management plan

Putting together and executing a pain-management plan will involve more than just you and your doctor. There are a variety of other pain specialists and many new treatments that may be helpful to your particular case.

Find the right professionals for your pain-management plan

What you may not know about neurosurgeons

  • Although most people associate neurosurgeons with brain surgery, they are trained to treat the entire nervous system. In fact, they spend about 70% of their time working with spinal difficulties.
  • They treat back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica (pain of the sciatic nerve, which starts at the pelvis and runs along the thigh), pinched nerves in the neck, sports injuries and chronic pain.
  • Neurosurgeons routinely prescribe nonsurgical care, coordinating a treatment plan that may include anything from anti-inflammatories to physical therapy.

What you may not know about neurologists

  • Like neurosurgeons, neurologists treat diseases and injuries of the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, nerves, nerve roots and muscles.
  • You may see a neurologist for your headache, sleep problems or sciatica.

What you may not know about anesthesiologists

  • It used to be that these doctors took care of pain only during surgery. Now, however, they usually meet with and treat patients before, during and after procedures.
  • They also manage pain and prescribe drug therapies for patients suffering from acute, chronic and cancer pain.

What you may not know about psychiatrists

  • A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can help assess and manage pain, and act in partnership with your doctor in creating a comprehensive treatment plan that may or may not include medications, such as antidepressants.
  • It's now widely recognized that pain is affected by emotions and beliefs and, in turn, can cause depression, anxiety and isolation.
  • Antidepressants are helpful if depression accompanies pain. They also help treat burning pain, and that's often why they are used, separate from — and sometimes in spite of — their antidepressant effects.

What you may not know about psychologists

  • A psychologist is not a medical doctor but a professional trained to treat emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety, which often accompany pain.
  • Some psychologists are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy designed to replace negative thinking with more positive attitudes and help with practical coping skills.

What you should know about physiatrists or rehabilitation physicians

  • These are doctors trained to diagnose and treat pain related to injuries and illnesses that affect how you move, that affect muscles, nerves and bones.
  • They work at diagnosing the source of your pain and then developing a treatment plan that may involve other physicians such as neurologists, orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists.

How to find a specialist

Look for the words pain specialist or pain-management specialist in the description of a health professional you're considering consulting for your condition. Those terms mean that the person has had additional training in pain management and knows how to put together a comprehensive treatment plan, which may include therapies as varied as drugs, chiropractic and yoga. Often, pain specialists will be in a practice with a team of other doctors.

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