Pain Medicine Doctor: Your Pain Relief & Pain Management Specialist
A pain medicine doctor specializes in diagnosing, treating and managing pain and a range of painful disorders. A pain medicine doctor cares for the health needs of people with acute pain, chronic pain, and cancer pain. Because pain is complex and covers a wide spectrum of conditions, pain medicine doctors specialize in both the physical and mental aspects of pain management.
A pain medicine doctor typically:
Evaluates your medical history and any test results you have
Performs a physical exam
Evaluates your answers to pain questionnaires
Orders and interprets laboratory tests, imaging exams, neurologic exams, and muscle and nerve studies
Orders physical therapy, electrical stimulation therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and counseling
Performs therapeutic injections and nerve blocks
Refers you to an appropriate surgeon if necessary
A pain medicine doctor may also be known as a pain medicine specialist, pain management doctor, or pain medicine physician.
Most people see a pain medicine doctor when their primary care doctor refers them to one. Other doctors who may refer you to a pain medicine doctor include back surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, neurologists, rheumatologists, and cancer doctors (oncologists).
Anyone with pain, especially chronic pain conditions or cancer pain, should consider consulting an experienced pain medicine doctor for a proper diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment options. However, a pain medicine doctor is not a surgeon. If you need surgery, a pain medicine doctor can refer you to an appropriate surgeon.
Consider seeking care from a pain medicine doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms or conditions:
Burning pain, hypersensitivity to temperature, and shiny skin over the painful area
Hand or wrist pain that gets worse with grasping
Hot or burning pain in your arms, hands, fingers, feet or toes
Jaw pain when talking, chewing, or biting into food that can radiate to your face and neck
Sharp stabbing head pain, squeezing head pain, or throbbing head pain with nausea and visual disturbances
Shooting or stabbing pain in your face, head or neck
You should also seek care from a pain medicine physician under the following situations:
You have cancer pain.
You have recovered from any illness or injury, but your pain persists.
A pain medicine doctor treats conditions and diseases including:
Acute pain including pain after an injury, surgery or illness
Back conditions including degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, spinal arthritis, spinal stenosis, sciatica, scoliosis, whiplash, vertebral compression fractures, and post-laminectomy syndrome or failed back surgery (chronic pain following back surgery)
Burn pain including acute pain during healing and chronic pain that may persist after third-degree burns
Cancer pain including pain from growing tumors and cancer treatment
Muscle and connective tissue pain disorders including fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, tendonitis, bursitis, repetitive stress injuries, and myofascial pain (pain from damage to the fascia tissue surrounding muscles and organs)
Nerve pain including trigeminal neuralgia (facial pain), diabetic neuropathy, phantom limb pain, postherpetic neuralgia (pain following shingles), complex regional pain syndrome, and central pain syndrome
Sports injury pain including sprains, strains, deep bruises, dislocations, and fractures
Vascular disorders including vasculitis
A pain medicine doctor can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic tests including:
Imaging tests including X-rays, ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Laboratory tests including blood tests, urine tests, joint aspirations, blood or fluid cultures, and autoimmune factors
Muscle and nerve studies including nerve conduction tests, evoked potential (EP) studies to measure the speed of nerve impulses to your brain, and electromyography (EMG) to measure the electrical activity of your muscles
Neurological exams including tests of your movement, balance, reflexes, sensations and coordination
Pain surveys to understand the type, duration and location of your pain
Pain medicine doctors order or perform procedures and treatments including:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy including coping strategies, stress management techniques, and relaxation techniques
Counseling including individual, group and family counseling
Exercise including light to moderate activities, such as swimming, walking and biking
Medications including painkillers, anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, corticosteroids, topical capsaicin, narcotics, injections, and nerve blocks
Physical and rehabilitation therapies including heat and cold therapy, exercise, stretching, therapeutic massage, and manipulation
A doctor may practice pain medicine without becoming board certified in the specialty. However, education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence. Board certification in pain medicine verifies that a doctor has completed residency training in the specialty and has passed competency examinations.
A board-certified pain medicine doctor has earned certification in pain medicine from one of the following specialty boards:
American Board of Anesthesiology
American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
American Osteopathic Board of Anesthesiology
American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians
A board-certified pain medicine doctor has:
Graduated from medical school or a college of osteopathic medicine, earning an MD or DO degree
Completed specialized residency training in anesthesiology, family medicine (osteopathic), physical medicine and rehabilitation, psychiatry, or neurology
Passed a certification exam that validates the doctor’s knowledge and skills in his or her specialty
Completed specialized training in pain medicine
Passed a written certification exam that validates the doctor’s specialized knowledge and skills in pain medicine
To maintain board certification in pain medicine, a doctor must participate in an ongoing certification program.
The American Board of Pain Medicine (ABPM) also provides certification in pain medicine. However, the ABPM is a self-designated board and is not a member of either the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or the American Osteopathic Association. The ABMS is an organization of 24 specialty boards. Its standards for the education, training, evaluation and certification of medical specialists are widely recognized in the United States.