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What to expect during a first visit with Pain Management

Pain is a problem. When pain occurs daily it can make it difficult to work, interrupt sleep, lead to isolation and depression, cause financial strain, and reduce quality of life. For individuals living with chronic pain, a visit with a pain management specialist can help.

Pain management providers can often diagnose the root cause of pain when the source is unclear. We can evaluate current pain strategies and, for those not getting adequate relief, offer suggestions and referrals.

I encourage any patient who is struggling with pain that won’t go away to ask their provider for a referral to a pain clinic. Individuals living with fibromyalgia, diabetes-related neuropathy, arthritis, chronic regional pain syndrome, neck or back issues, headaches, cancer, and many other painful conditions can benefit from specialized care.

Questions help providers see problem clearly

At Vancouver Clinic, the first visit in our Pain Management Department is focused on learning everything we can about the patient. In addition to vital signs, we obtain pain scores and ask a lot of questions about the pain experience:

  • Where is it?
  • How long has it been there?
  • What started it?
  • What does it feel like?
  • What makes it better or worse?
  • Is there numbness, tingling, or weakness?
  • Is it improving, staying the same, or getting worse?

Next is the physical exam. This often includes checking range of motion, strength, sensation, and reflexes, as well as palpitating affected areas.

Treatment options work best together

After learning everything we can, we create a care plan. Pain generally can’t be completely eliminated. However, by combining multiple therapy types it can usually be reduced. Depending on the diagnosis and type of pain, options may include:

  • Alternative treatments, such as massage and acupuncture, to relax muscles and reduce stress
  • Behavioral therapy to learn skills to relax, manage stress, and meditate
  • Biofeedback therapy to practice controlling involuntary functions—for example, brain waves
  • Injections or nerve blocks to reduce pain where it originates
  • Medication changes to better control pain or reduce dependence on prescriptions
  • Neuromodulation to interrupt pain signals or stimulate nerves
  • Physical therapy to strengthen muscles or increase flexibility
  • Surgery to correct abnormalities.

Each patient’s treatment plan is personalized based on his or her diagnosis, pain level, and lifestyle. Sometimes further testing is necessary, and lab work, MRIs, CTs, or x-rays are in order.

Follow-up is key

A necessary part of gaining better control over pain is following up with the provider. It’s important for caregivers to understand what is working well and what isn’t so that we can make adjustments. It can take time and patience to discover the right combination of therapies. What’s more, it’s usually best to try solutions that are the simplest first, before moving on to more invasive options.

As a provider, I see just how challenging and disruptive pain can be. If you have questions about better managing your pain, please ask for a referral from your primary care provider.

Nurse Practitioner Jill Faccia loves helping people regain their quality of life. She enjoys getting to know each patient she works with and looks beyond charts and lab results to understand each person’s unique goals. She believes that active listening is the cornerstone of quality care.