After experiencing a car accident, you may notice increased pain, whether from an injury or from the tension you’ve been carrying since such a traumatic event happened to you. Plus, there is the stress of all the small tasks it seems you need to do in the aftermath, like filing a police report and phone calls with your insurance agent. Times of stress can heighten your perception of pain as well as cause more pain, such as in the form of tension headaches. Therefore, whether you have been diagnosed with a car accident injury or whether you walked away apparently unscathed, it may be a good idea to visit a pain management specialist.
Pain Management Doctors
Professionals under the umbrella of pain management specialists come in many forms, but really, that umbrella refers to medical experts whose specialties revolve around pain and the many ways to handle it. These experts have been specially trained in what to look for and how to listen to patients to more accurately diagnose, treat, and manage pain. They can also act as liaisons within your wider medical team, communicating with and educating all necessary parties about best practices regarding your diagnosis. As a result, your care is more individualized, with a better understanding of your particular needs.
Pain Management Specialist Duties
What your pain management doctor will do for you depends on what kind of car accident injury you are dealing with, but in general, there are several duties these experts juggle on a daily basis. The following list is far from exhaustive but will give you an idea of what your pain management doctor may do before, during, or after your appointment.
- Keep up with continuing education requirements to learn new information regarding pain conditions and best practices for the treatment of pain
- Listen carefully to patients and ask the best possible questions that will point them towards a diagnosis
- Prescribe medication, if needed
- Refer you for further testing or specialists
- Deliver information to other members of your medical team, like your primary care doctor, physical therapists, chiropractor, or other important specialists who work with you
- Educate the medical team on managing and treating pain
- Make recommendations for ways you can make small changes at home to help you with your pain
- Work with you and other specialists as needed to build an individualized treatment plan
- Provide some procedures that will support your pain management goals
Types of Pain
Most types of pain fall into one of two categories: chronic or acute. Pain management specialists are trained to help patients with either kind. While it may seem like car accident injuries only lend themselves to acute pain, in fact, many injuries eventually result in chronic pain. That is one reason why seeing a pain management specialist soon after your crash is so important, as chronic pain can be harder to treat and certainly harder to live with.
Sudden pain that flares suddenly but dissipates quickly, such as the result of the injury or during some illnesses, or lasts only as long as your injury needs to heal, is known as acute pain. Its severity is serious and can absolutely make your life difficult for a while. A pain specialist will help make you more comfortable while you heal from your car accident injury and help get you feeling more like your old self. Plus, fortunately, acute pain usually has a time limit. If it lasts longer than a certain amount of time, though, it becomes diagnosed as chronic pain.
This form of pain may develop as a result of an untreated or improperly treated injury or a medical condition. Chronic pain is any pain that persists or worsens over a long period of time. Most doctors consider three months to be the marker at which acute pain develops into chronic pain. Chronic pain can last decades and can have a major impact on your day-to-day life. Pain management doctors tend to treat chronic pain more frequently than acute pain, although they are experts at both. Patients experiencing chronic pain usually have more complex needs and can even have pain that affects multiple body systems.
Pain Management Treatment Options
Due to messaging found throughout society, as well as the ongoing national opioid epidemic that affects many people in Marietta, some patients worry that their pain management doctor will simply prescribe medication and then send them off. This isn’t the case at all! While medication is certainly helpful in relieving pain, a management plan addresses multiple facets of a patient. There are plenty of other options available. Some potential treatment options your doctor may recommend include but are not limited to the following:
- Over-the-counter pain medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen
○ It is important to note that while these medications are helpful for acute pain, they are not recommended for long-term use due to harmful effects on the stomach and liver.
- Prescriptions for stronger medication available only through a pharmacy
○ This could include antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, and local anesthetics, all of which can provide relief for certain causes of pain
- Physical therapy, which can help strengthen the areas of your body in which you are experiencing pain, as well as restore your flexibility and mobility, resulting in lessened pain
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, especially if your pain is a result of tension from stressors or has some other psychosomatic component
- Other forms of therapy, like posture training, dry needling, or electric stimulation therapy, or occupational therapy if your pain has limited your ability to meet your daily needs
- Alternative forms of medicine, like acupuncture or chiropractic care
- Safe and minimally invasive injections, including epidural steroid injections and nerve blocks, which provide longer relief
- Surgical interventions, depending on the injury, the longevity and severity of your pain, and whether the cause for your pain will respond well to surgery
Preparing for Pain Management Appointment
You may have some preconceptions about the kind of patients who require support from a pain management specialist. In reality, such patients are a diverse set of people, varying in age, lifestyle, and conditions. You will be far from the only person your doctor has treated for a car accident injury, but they will see plenty of other kinds of illnesses and injuries throughout their day as well. You can help your doctor make an accurate and helpful diagnosis by preparing a few things to bring along to your appointment.
If you have any other documentation regarding your injury, including information about how the injury occurred, it is a great day to bring that information with you on the day of the appointment. Some doctors will even allow you to send the documents via an online portal ahead of time. Documentation is especially important when you are dealing with a chronic pain condition for which you have seen multiple doctors. Documentation could include patient summaries from visits to an emergency room, urgent care facility, or your primary care physician; test results within the last year; a list of medications you are currently taking; and any other information you believe will help your pain management specialist. Do not assume that your doctor has already accessed this information or that other specialists will be able to easily send the information to them.
Questions to Ask
Have you ever had the experience of coming up with a ton of great, relevant things you should ask while your teacher is lecturing, but your mind goes blank when the teacher says, “Any questions?” This frequently happens in the doctor’s office as well. In order to prevent this, write down your questions as they come to you, even when there are still several days before you will see the pain management specialist. If you like to use a notebook, that might be a good place, or you can use a note-taking app on your smartphone. Of course, doctors try to make themselves available for follow-up questions through email or special helplines that you can call, but you may feel more comfortable and knowledgeable covering your concerns during your appointment.
From the time you begin experiencing symptoms of pain, try keeping a journal to record them. Your doctor will want to know the time of day you are experiencing pain, the level of your pain, the length of time that your pain lasts, and potential triggers. Even within a short amount of time, tracking your pain may create a pattern that a pain management doctor will be able to interpret.
How to Keep a Pain Journal
- When you experience significant pain, as well as right before bed, rate your pain. Think of 0 as having no pain, while 10 represents the worst pain you’ve ever experienced. Make sure to record the time of day that you are making an entry.
- Use descriptive language to describe your symptoms. Doctors will know how to tell the difference between a “sharp” pain and a “dull” pain. Your pain could be like needles or more like a constant burning.
- Record an approximate time for when your pain begins and ends. If your pain doesn’t end or worsen, note that.
- Are there any triggers that cause the pain to worsen or things that allow for temporary relief? Make note of these as well.
- Note your mood, which can have an effect on your perception of pain.
- If you can, try to include what you have consumed that day. Some food and drink can be triggers for pain, especially caffeine and alcohol.
AICA Marietta has a team of pain management specialists ready to serve you and help you on your journey toward healing.