Pain is the body’s natural response to harm. Pain occurs when special pain receptors at the end of the nerves, called nociceptors, are turned on because of an illness or injury or because chemical changes within the body indicate that tissues are being damaged. When a nociceptor is turned on, a signal travels through the spinal cord to the brain, which recognizes the signal as pain.
Chronic pain can be difficult to manage because it varies so much from person to person. Even two people with the same kind of pain may need different treatments. That is why it is important to find a doctor who specializes in pain management.
Pain management doctors, often called pain specialists, have advanced training in diagnosing, treating, and rehabilitating people with chronic pain. They often work as part of a team with nurses, physical therapists, and mental health professionals.
Pain specialists realize that many chronic pain conditions have no cure, so they focus on ways to manage the pain. They also recognize that because chronic pain has many causes and possible treatments, no single treatment works best for everyone. Typically, they will try a progression of therapies until sufficient pain relief is reached.
When managing chronic pain, pain specialists often follow a series of treatment levels. This means that a pain specialist will often begin with more conservative therapies, such as exercise programs and physical therapy. If the pain continues, he or she will try more advanced therapies, such as pain medications, nerve blocks, or surgery, until sufficient pain relief is attained.
The chronic pain treatment continuum can be broken down into three levels (see below). After a thorough diagnosis, you and your doctor can decide the best management option for your pain. These are general guidelines and can vary depending on your condition, your response to previous treatments, and the recommendation of your pain specialist.
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