Pain Medicine Doctor: Your Pain Relief & Pain Management Specialist

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is a pain medicine doctor?

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

  • Diagnoses and treats herniated discs, spinal stenosis, fibromyalgia, cancer pain, migraine headaches, diabetic neuropathy, sports injuries, and burn pain

  • Prescribes medications

  • 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.

Who should see a pain medicine doctor?

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.

When should you see a pain medicine doctor?

Consider seeking care from a pain medicine doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms or conditions:

  • Back pain, lower back pain, neck pain, or back pain that radiates to the hips, legs and feet

  • Burning pain, hypersensitivity to temperature, and shiny skin over the painful area

  • Fatigue, stiffness, joint tenderness, and widespread muscle pain

  • 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

  • Leg pain and weakness when you are standing that gets better when you sit down

  • 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.

What conditions and diseases does a pain medicine doctor treat?

A pain medicine doctor treats conditions and diseases including:

What tests does a pain medicine doctor perform or order?

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

What procedures and treatments does a pain medicine doctor perform or order?

Pain medicine doctors order or perform procedures and treatments including:

  • Alternative or complementary therapies including acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic care, hypnosis, and magnets

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy including coping strategies, stress management techniques, and relaxation techniques

  • Counseling including individual, group and family counseling

  • Electrical stimulation including transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), peripheral nerve stimulation, spinal cord stimulation, and deep brain stimulation

  • 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

Pain medicine doctor training and certification

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.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Nov 8
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain. American Academy of Pain Medicine.  

  2. About ABPM. American Board of Pain Medicine.  

  3. Board Eligibility. American Osteopathic Board of Family Physicians.  

  4. Information About Initial Certification Exams. American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.  

  5. Chronic Pain Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.  

  6. The Specialty of Chronic Pain Management. American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine.  

  7. Better Patient Care is Built on Higher Standards. American Board of Medical Specialties.