Could You Benefit from a Pain Clinic?

You had surgery several months ago, but you still have pain that won't quit even after you're supposed to be healed. Or you were in an accident and can't seem to get rid of your discomfort. Perhaps you have a progressive disease, such as arthritis, that's causing you pain and you need help managing it. Rather than just try to live with the pain on your own, you may benefit from visiting a pain clinic.

What exactly is a pain clinic, and why should you go there instead of, say, just calling your doctor? A pain clinic is devoted solely to helping alleviate patients' pain. It offers far more than any single doctor or practice can do for a person who is in discomfort. "There's a major spectrum of interventions and specialists that staff a pain clinic," says Dr. Bob Jamison, associate professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston. "There are a lot of disciplines working together to help [patients] improve.

The first thing to consider before going to a pain clinic is how long you have been experiencing pain. By definition, chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than three months (some health-care practitioners consider the cutoff to be six months). If you've been in pain for this length of time and haven't experienced any improvement, it may be time to ask your physician for a referral to a pain clinic. Most major medical centers have pain clinics, and there are some independent ones as well.

Once you become a patient at a pain clinic, you'll be able to take advantage of many different therapies. Below are some of the ways in which pain clinics benefit patients:

  • Medications. At a pain clinic, you have access to a wide variety of medications. These include oral medicines, injectible painkillers, and even implantable devices such as spinal-cord stimulators, which work to block pain affecting the back and legs. Another type of implantable device is an intrathecal pump under the skin. The pump is filled with medicine that's directed toward a certain area of the body.
  • Physical therapy. Pain clinics often employ physical therapists or exercise physiologists to work with patients on restoring comfortable movement to the affected area.
  • Mental therapy. Pain is not just a physical problem. Studies show that depression and pain often go hand in hand, with one exacerbating the other. Psychologists, social workers and other trained counselors can help patients learn to cope with their pain.

While pain clinics have undeniable benefits, experts caution that they cannot work miracles. "Regardless of how the pain first began and what the course of treatment is, the pain is probably going to persist to some degree," Jamison says. "[The goal] is getting it down to a manageable level, where you have good quality of life, can avoid the emergency room, and can hopefully get back to work."


Source: Dr. Bob Jamison, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston.