What questions should I ask my pain management doctor?
eople mean well when they sympathize with your pain. But only you truly understand what you’re experiencing. After all, pain isn’t merely a symptom, it’s also a condition with varying degrees of severity and different debilitating effects.
Nevertheless, managing your chronic pain is a collaborative effort between you and your doctors. By taking a closer look at your pain, describing it in detail, and asking a series of thoughtful questions, you can help your pain management team develop an effective treatment plan.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Pain management is a multidisciplinary science often involving different types of specialists, including a physiatrist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, and/or psychiatrist. These specialists often work together to coordinate care with your primary care physician, surgeon, oncologist, or other doctor.
Your doctor only “sees” your pain on a CT or MRI scan. However, you can help your doctor “feel” your pain by providing detailed information about it.
Before your doctor’s appointment, give some thought to how to describe your pain. Here are some questions to consider, that might be both helpful to you and to your pain management doctor:
- Where is my pain located?
- Does my pain stay in one place or radiate?
- Does anything specifically trigger my pain?
- Do I experience numbness, tingling, burning, stinging, or electric-like sensations?
- Is my pain constant, or does it come and go?
- How has pain impacted my quality of life?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain imaginable, how do I rate my pain?
- What caused my pain to begin with?
- Did my pain start suddenly or gradually?
- How long have I been in pain?
- What am I currently doing to manage my pain?
- Is there anything I’m doing that’s reducing my pain?
- What pain medications have I taken in the past, and how did they work for me?
- Have I ever had an allergic reaction to pain medication? If so, what were the medications?
- Do I have concerns about taking medications to help manage pain and other symptoms?
- Are there other treatments for the cause of my pain besides medications?
- What other medical conditions do I have?
- What are my goals for managing my pain?
- Taking notes based on these questions, or others, can help you and your doctor work towards the best possible outcome.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Bring your notes and questions with you to your appointment. This will help you make the most of your time with your doctor, and it will ensure that you obtain the information you need to understand your diagnosis and treatment options.
Your list of questions for your pain management doctor should include:
- What kind of training do you have in pain diagnosis and management?
- What types of diagnostic tests will be ordered?
- What are the treatment options?
- Are their treatment options besides medications?
- Can you do image-guided procedures, if necessary, or would I need to see one or more other doctors?
- Will other health specialists be consulted?
- What are the next steps if the recommended treatment does not work?
- Are their self-care options that can supplement medications, physical therapy, etc.?
- What supplements to take for spine health?
What pain specialists treat?
Pain management specialists are doctors who can diagnose and treat chronic pain. This is pain that you may have for more than three months that isn’t getting better. Although you may try some self-care at home or see your primary care doctor for pain when it first develops, you usually would see a pain management physician for pain that doesn’t go away.
Here are a few examples of the types of pain managed by pain management specialists:
- Back pain.
- Neck pain.
- Arm or leg pain.
- Abdominal pain.
- Pelvic pain.
- Nonspecific joint pain.
- Pain related to a failed surgery.
- Pain related to cancer.
What are my treatment options?
There are many types of treatments available for pain. It’s important to find out from your doctor what options are available for your specific pain and the pros and cons of each treatment option. Here are some of the more commonly used treatment options. These range from lifestyle modifications to medications to surgery:
- Losing weight.
- Changing your diet.
- Doing yoga or other forms of physical activity.
- Sleeping better.
- Improving your posture.
- Guided imagery/meditation.
- Physical therapy.
- Swim therapy.
- Chiropractic treatment.
- Physical rehabilitation.
- Over-the-counter medications.
- Prescribed nonopiate medications.
- Procedures such as nerve blocks and steroid injections.
- Implanting neuromodulation devices to help the pain.
- Major corrective surgery.
Questions the Physician May Ask You
What can you expect from a pain management doctor? The physician will first have pain management questions for patients during the initial medical appointment. The goal is to get as full an understanding as possible of the pain experienced and the possible causes. The description you give the physician serves as a reference point for designing the diagnostic plan followed by a treatment plan.
Typical questions include:
- Can you describe your pain in detail as to how it feels?
- Does anything you do make it feel worse or better?
- When did the pain start and was it after an event like a fall or car wreck?
- What treatments have you already tried?
- Can you rate your pain on a scale of 1-10?
- Are you able to continue working?
- Does your pain cause you to feel anxious or distressed?
- Has your pain interfered with any of your normal life activities?
- Can I contact your doctors to obtain more information about your past medical history?
- Do you have any diagnosed medical diseases, i.e. diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, etc?
The physician will ask a number of pain questions that supplement a physical examination. All the information is put together to guide the physician on what medical tests to order to assist with a diagnosis. They include blood work, MRI, CAT scan and x-rays.