What to expect during the appointment with a pain physician

What to expect during the appointment with a pain physician

Chronic pain is a common problem worldwide. It is one of the most common reasons for people to seek medical help for back pain, headaches and joint pain being the most common complaints. While it can affect people of all ages, it is most common in those older than 60 years.

With chronic pain, the body continues to send pain signals to the brain for longer than 12 weeks and unfortunately, it can last for several years. Chronic pain can limit mobility and reduce flexibility, strength, and endurance.  All this severely challenges daily tasks and activities.

Chronic pain may feel sharp or dull, causing a burning or aching sensation in the affected areas. It may be steady or intermittent, coming and going without any apparent reason.

First of all, it is crucial to see the doctor for an assessment of pain to make sure there is not a serious underlying cause that needs specific treatment. Pain physician will ask about pain and health in general and perform a physical examination.

Pain physician may suggest keeping a pain diary describing the pain, when it is experienced when it is better or worse, and what brings it on or makes it better. This can help the doctor to understand the pain, its possible causes and how best to treat it.

It is understandable to have some fears or doubts about the first visit with a pain physician. However, having the understanding what to expect during the examination usually helps the patient be calmer and more relaxed.


Initial examination


During the first consultation, pain physician examines your back and assess the ability to sit, stand, walk and lift legs. The doctor might also ask you to rate your pain on a scale of zero to 10 and talk to you about how well you’re functioning with your pain.

These assessments help determine the source of the pain, how does it affect your mobility and how much you can move before pain forces you to stop and whether you have muscle spasms. The tests can help rule out more serious causes of back pain.


Additional tests


Usually, the initial examination isn’t enough as the pain may be non-specific and it may be hard for the patient to explain exactly when and where the pain is felt the most. It is natural that if there is a reason to suspect that a specific condition is causing back pain, pain physician might order one or more tests:

  • X-ray. These images show the alignment of your bones and whether you have arthritis or broken bones. These images alone won’t show problems with your spinal cord, muscles, nerves or disks.
  • MRI or CT scans. These scans generate images that can reveal herniated disks or problems with bones, muscles, tissue, tendons, nerves, ligaments and blood vessels.
  • Blood tests. These can help determine whether you have an infection or other condition that might be causing your pain.
  • Bone scan. In rare cases, your doctor might use a bone scan to look for bone tumors or compression fractures caused by osteoporosis.
  • Nerve studies. Electromyography (EMG) measures the electrical impulses produced by the nerves and the responses of your muscles. This test can confirm nerve compression caused by herniated disks or narrowing of your spinal canal (spinal stenosis).


Preparing for your appointment


Often, the decision to take the time to visit the pain physician takes quite a long time. Such a delay is natural, albeit bad for your health. Fear of the unexpected that holds most of us back sets the wrongful thinking that the pain will subside eventually by itself.

However, it is worth remembering that the longer the delay in addressing the specialist, the more complex and longer lasting the treatment itself can be.

To minimize the stress of visiting a pain physician, we recommend that you prepare for it. Here’s some information to help you get ready for your appointment.


What you can do


Make a list of:

  • Key personal information, including mental or emotional stressors in your life
  • Your symptoms, and when they began
  • All medications, vitamins and other supplements you take, including doses
  • Questions to ask your doctor

Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you receive.

For back pain, questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What is the most likely cause of my back pain?
  • Do I need diagnostic tests?
  • What treatment approach do you recommend?
  • If you’re recommending medications, what are the possible side effects?
  • I have other medical conditions. How can I best manage them together?
  • How long will I need treatment?
  • What self-care measures should I try?
  • What can I do to prevent a recurrence of back pain?


What to expect from your doctor


Remember that first of all, your physician must know and understand your health history well so that the most appropriate treatment method could be prescribed. One of the cornerstones of successful pain treatment is communication. It helps to create a trust-based relationship. So be ready to answer the following or similar questions from your pain physician:

  • When did your back pain begin?
  • Have you ever injured your back?
  • Is the pain constant?
  • Does the pain affect your ability to function? If so, how much?
  • Do you have other signs or symptoms besides back pain?
  • Do you do heavy physical work?
  • Do you exercise regularly? What types of activities do you do?
  • How often do you feel depressed or anxious?
  • Do you sleep well?