As much as you might want to live a pain-free life, it’s almost impossible to avoid physical pain altogether. Whether you wrench your back replacing your mattress, wake up with a headache because you’re dehydrated or bump your shin on a coffee table, you’re bound to notice pain every now and then.
Most of the time, pain goes away over time. But chronic pain is different. “Chronic pain is pain that lasts for more than six months,” said Jeremy Chastain, MD, a pain management specialist at Banner Health in Tucson, AZ. It’s common to experience chronic:
- Low back pain
- Neck pain
- Joint pain, for example, in a knee or shoulder
If you have chronic pain, your health care provider might refer you to a pain management specialist. “We strive to get your pain under control and to give you your life back,” Dr. Chastain said. “We try to treat our patients with the most empathy and compassion because we understand how difficult and debilitating chronic pain can be.”
If you’ve been experiencing pain for a long time, you might be anxious about your appointment with a specialist, or worried you’ll forget something. These tips can help you get the most out of your time with the pain specialist.
1. Bring your medical information
Your chronic pain management specialist can come up with the best solutions when they have all of your information. What should you bring to your pain management appointment?
- Medical and surgical records and imaging studies - Dr. Chastain said it’s better to take them with you rather than to fax them ahead of time, though you can fax them if you need to.
- An updated list of the medications you are taking.
- The names and contact information for your other doctors.
- The name and phone number of your pharmacy.
2. Be prepared to discuss your pain
When you schedule your appointment, you might want to ask how much time you’ll have with the doctor. For new patients, Dr. Chastain said he typically plans at least 30 minutes so there’s enough time to explain your symptoms and you don’t feel rushed. Share as much information as possible so your specialist can make an accurate diagnosis and put together an effective treatment plan.
If you can’t pinpoint the source of your pain or you have pain in different places, that’s okay. “We will discuss the condition that’s causing your distress, and if there are different components, we may treat them each separately,” Dr. Chastain said.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
You might want to make a list of questions ahead of time, so you don’t forget them. What questions should you ask in a pain management appointment? You may want to ask:
- How can I keep myself free of further pain-related issues?
- Are there any medications I should take or avoid?
- How is my treatment plan developed?
- What are reasonable goals for my treatment?
And, if you don’t understand your doctor’s explanation, ask if they can use diagrams or images to help clarify things for you.
4. Take notes and bring someone along if you like
You are always allowed to take notes during your visit. And most pain management centers also document the appointment, and you can access those records in paper or online form. Most health care systems have online portals where you can create an account and view your documents online.
And bringing a family member or friend with you is not a bad idea. They can help you remember to ask all your questions and, afterward, to recall what you learned during the appointment.
5. Be open to considering various treatment options
A specialist can give you insights into why you’re experiencing pain and can outline a possible treatment plan for your chronic pain management. At your appointment, your doctor may discuss whether these treatments might help:
- Physical therapy, which is often the first approach to pain management and can often relieve your pain without the need for further treatment.
- Psychology and psychiatry, including medication and talk therapies to address mental health issues that can cause physical pain.
- Medications—your specialist may prescribe pain medication, but since there are significant risks and side effects to opioid pain medications, your doctor will look for other pain-relieving medical therapies.
- Injections and interventional procedures such as epidurals, steroid injections, nerve blocks and spinal cord stimulators.
- Referrals for complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, biofeedback and herbal medicine.
In some cases, pain management specialists might refer you to a surgeon. “We try our best to help manage pain without surgery,” Dr. Chastain said.
The bottom line
Chronic pain can be complicated, and pain management specialists can help determine why you are experiencing pain and come up with a plan that can help you treat it. Knowing what to bring to your appointment can help you get the most out of your time with your doctor. If you would like to connect with a pain management specialist, reach out to Banner Health.
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