What different types of providers are available to help you and your pain?

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Unfortunately, significant portions of the population have pain that lasts for more than a few days or weeks.  Treating such chronic pain with a singular approach may solve a few symptoms, but medical evidence shows the best outcomes result from a true comprehensive approach coordinated by highly trained medical doctors in a safe and comfortable environment.  A typical team is coordinated with a doctor board certified in pain medicine such as an anesthesiologist or physiatrist.  Your team will employ multiple disciplines each specialized in a component of your care and the sum of the whole should be a more functional better quality of life. 

Meet the typical team:

Primary Care Physician (4 years medical school, postgraduate medical training 1-4 years)

Your general health and well being is an important part of fighting pain.  Regular visits to your doctor for routine medical care will ensure that the machinery in your body is functioning at its best.  Furthermore, your family doctor practices in an environment where they evaluate and diagnose a wide range of problems related to your health making them excellent partners in the fight. Following their recommendations is very important.  There will be regular communication between your primary care team and the team treating your pain.

Anesthesiologist board certified in anesthesia and pain (4 years medical school, 1 intern year, 3 years anesthesia, 1 year fellowship)

Your Anesthesiologist is specially trained in monitoring and treating pain in a comprehensive manner.  They are most likely to be the primary director for treatments and management of patients with chronic pain.  They are qualified to perform the physical exam and order imaging to provide a precision diagnosis.  Highly qualified to manage the medications associated with managing your pain, they are also expert in providing image guided interventional procedures to confirm suspected diagnosis or provide lasting relief.  Their training includes extensive training in both pharmacology and cutting edge procedures and surgery specifically designed to keep you pain free.  

Radiologist (4 years medical school, 1 year internship, 4 years residency, fellowship for specialization)

Radiology employs the use of imaging to diagnose and visualize issues in the human body.  Medical imaging can be an important piece to the puzzle.  Techniques employed might be Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), CT, X-ray, PET or ultrasound.  Usually ordered by another member of the team these images and the interpretation of these images by a radiologist will provide a starting point in your evaluation.

Neurosurgery/Orthopedic spine surgery (4 years medical school, one year internship, 5-7 years residency training, 1-3 years fellowship training if specialized)

Surgeons train for longer than any other specialist (9 years minimum), and are licensed to physically repair the inner mechanics of the body.  Surgical intervention can be an important part of your path to wellness.  Early intervention in the pain cycle is a crucial element in being healthy therefore surgeons are a very important part of your team.  Asking questions is the key and surgery can resolve and treat many types of pain.

Physical Therapist (physical therapy professional degree)

A physical therapist is concerned with the remediation of impairments, promotion of mobility, and assisting quality of life through examination and physical intervention. Their treatments for chronic pain may include physical exercises and movements meant to retrain and rehabilitate the body. Training to become a physical therapist can be varied, and not all practicing Physical Therapists hold Bachelor’s Degrees. A professional degree is required, however.

Chiropractor (1-4 years of pre-requisite training in basic sciences, 4 years DC program)

Chicropractic manipulation is a complementary and alternative medicine discipline. Chiropractors emphasize manual therapy including joint adjustment and manipulation to ease pain and prevent future damage without the use of surgery. Education and training for chiropractors varies, but all require a first professional degree which usually includes two or more years of undergraduate education and 3-4 years of chiropractic training.  There is excellent data to suggest those patients who participate in a program that includes the offering of complimentary alternative techniques will do better.

Massage Therapist (500-1000 proctored training)

Massage is the manipulation of superficial and deeper layers of muscles to enhance function, aid in the healing process, inhibit motor-neuron excitability, and promote relaxation. Massage therapists can be trained in several types of massage, but typically do not have bachelor’s degrees. 

Acupuncturist (3-4 year graduate level training for licensure)

Acupuncture is one of the oldest healing practices in the world, and involves the stimulation of points on the body using a variety of techniques, usually penetrating the skin with needles that are then manipulated manually. Acupuncture training institutes are also varied, but there is a governing body for acupuncturists (the American Board of Medical Acupuncture).

As always, speak with a licensed physician before seeking a new treatment plan to find one that suits your needs. For more information about pain treatment and pain doctors in the Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Olympia, Everett and Edmonds areas, contact the Washington Center for Pain Management.