Pain is a universal condition among humans. Whether from illness or accident, every person has felt pain at some point in their lives—in fact, many times for most of us. Fortunately, the vast majority of painful episodes, referred to as acute, are resolved rather quickly with medication that eases the discomfort until healing dissipates it altogether. Acute pain can result from broken bones, burns or cuts, dental work, labor and childbirth, soft tissue injury (such as whiplash), or surgery.
There are those individuals who are not so lucky, and pain becomes a constant in their lives. Pain that lasts more than three months is classified as “chronic.” Chronic back and neck pain are the most common complaints, and the leading reason people seek medical care. There are several root causes for chronic back and neck pain such as arthritis, cancer, degenerative disc disease, or trauma from a fall or vehicle accident resulting in soft tissue injury. The results can be severe emotional as well as physical pain. Depression is often a serious side-effect of chronic pain.
Pain management is a relatively recent specialty that addresses chronic pain through a wide variety of treatments that include:
- Restriction of the activity that has been identified as the cause.
- Prescription medication, including anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, or narcotics, plus anti-depressants, and anti-seizure medications that have proven to be effective.
- Injection therapy that may help isolate the cause in addition to providing relief. These would include epidural steroid, facet joint, and sacroiliac joint injections and nerve blocks to the nerve root, medial branch, peripheral and sympathetic nerves.
- Physical therapy which would include therapeutic exercise, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, spinal traction, massage, and heat/ice application.
- Pulsed radiofrequency neurotomy, which prevents nerves from sending pain signals to the brain.
- Spinal cord stimulation, which is an implanted device that produces electrical impulses to block pain perception.
- Intrathecal pump, which is a device surgically implanted and dispenses measured doses of medication within the spinal cord.
So, an in-depth conversation between doctor and patient will uncover the plan of pain management that best suits the individual and his or her lifestyle. Whether the final outcome is pain cessation or a reduction to a tolerable level, life can once again be a meaningful journey worth pursuing.