We have all endured finite episodes of severe pain whether that is a fractured bone or severe migraine or throes of labour pains. While we may be fortunate enough to remember them as distant memories, those with constant pain are often denied this luxury of forgetfulness. Their lives often encompassed around managing pain. Leaving aside the distress/agony it causes, it can cause other harmful effects on most body systems whether it is your mental/ emotional well being or your heart or your quality of life. Hence it is import to control it sooner rather than later.
Pain, although distressing, has the benefit of bringing medical problems to our attention. It usually abates as healing occurs. Chronic pain is pain that persists beyond the period of healing. Traditionally pain is thought to represent ongoing damage in body. This is now considered incorrect especially in context of longstanding/ chronic pain. To simplify- CHRONIC PAIN DOES NOT ALWAYS SIGNIFY ONGOING DAMAGE.
The newer understanding of chronic pain
In the past patients who usually complained of long standing pain, were often dismissed by healthcare professionals and most patients accepted pain as a part of ageing. In many cases it was not easy to figure out the underlying cause of pain, as chronic pain was not well understood. Over the years, with the amount of research that has gone into the study of chronic pain, doctors now understand more about different facets of pain management – physiological, psychological, pharmacological, interventional etc. There is enhanced understanding of mechanisms which can cause amplification of perceived pain symptoms. These advances and technological developments have enabled pain specialists to offer more to their patients. This stands true for back pain as well. While a significant number of people in a population suffer from back pain, fortunately for most this will resolve with time. However a small proportion does go on to develop chronic pain. The severity can vary from mild discomfort to debilitating illness interfering with activities of daily living and limiting functionality. Pain management specialists use a combination of modalities and specialties known as multimodal multidisciplinary approach to effectively manage the back pain.
What do you understand by pain management?
The complexities of pain and the fact that surgery or pills cannot resolve all pain has been long recognised. Understanding and treating chronic pain is challenging as we all experience and process pain differently. Hence one therapy does not work for all. This has lead to the development of Pain Medicine as a separate speciality. In this speciality the doctors are trained specially to deal chronic pain conditions and develop a better understanding of pain, underlying mechanisms and ways of reducing its impact on life. A good pain physician focuses on holistic management of patient rather than just treating the disease.
Pain medicine is branch of medicine concerned with evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation of persons in pain. It utilises a Multi –disciplinary approach with specialists from different fields working together help in managing your pain, restore functioning and improving quality of life. The team mostly comprises of Pain Specialists, Specialist Nurses, Physiotherapists, Occupational therapists, Acupuncturists, Psychologists and Dieticians.
Role of pain management for chronic back pain
When it comes to chronic back pain, there are a variety of ways in which pain clinic can help. Most pain clinic interventions have the advantage of being low risk, minimally invasive, non-surgical options without any need for prolonged hospitalisation. The treatment plan is individualised and may include a combination of the following
- Patient Education
- Medication Management
- Physiotherapy and rehabilitation
- Psychology input including relaxation therapy, coping and self-management skills, cognitive behavioral therapy
- Complementary and alternative therapies including Acupuncture, TENS, acupressure, meditation
- Dietary advice
- Interventions such as injections. These can be especially useful for people where the source of pain is not known despite extensive investigations. Diagnostic injections can help in reliably identifying sources of pain when investigations have been inconclusive. Some of the treatment options are not commonly available elsewhere and these include
- X-ray/ ultrasound guided injections like nerve blocks, epidurals, facet joint injections
- CT guided interventions in areas which require precision for accuracy and minimising risks
- Advanced techniques such as Radiofrequency treatment which can provide prolonged pain relief for common conditions arthritis of the joints in the spine
Research and technological developments have opened new avenues in pain management such as
- Newer technologies – cooled radiofrequency and spinal cord stimulators
- Regenerative medicine options including stem cells and platelet rich plasma(PRP)
Asa vast majority of patients with back pain do not require surgery, a combination of above mentioned modalities can help in effective pain relief. Pain clinic is also an option for patients who have had inadequate results from previous surgery or those who are not keen on surgery or not fit to have surgery.