Learn more about pain medicine

What Is Pain Medicine? All Your Questions Answered

You may have heard the term “pain medicine” and brushed it off as prescriptions and medicines. But it’s so much more.

Pain medicine is its own field of medicine, and it involves more than you might expect.

Contact the UPMC Pain Medicine program. 

What Is Pain Medicine?

According to Ajay Wasan, MD, vice chair, pain medicine in the Department of Anesthesiology at UPMC, pain medicine is its own specialty, and doctors who practice it have completed a pain medicine fellowship and are certified by the American Board of Pain Medicine.

Expect your first visit with a pain specialist to involve an extensive evaluation of all possible causes of your pain. The doctor may recommend a variety of treatments to reduce your pain and improve your functioning that can include:

  • Nerve block. A nerve block is a medicine injected into your body to numb a group of nerves and, as a result, reduce pain.
  • Oral medicine. This can be divided into opioids and non-opioids. Opioid medicines, also known as narcotics, are typically used as a last resort. A doctor may first prescribe non-opioid medicines to help control pain.
  • Physical therapy. Physical therapy and exercises to strengthen targeted areas of your body can help to relieve pain. UPMC’s chronic pain management program offers physical therapy and occupational therapy clinics so that you’ll receive the proper therapies to treat your chronic pain.
  • Psychotherapy. UPMC’s Pain Medicine program also includes pain psychologists who can help you learn to cope with your pain and improve how you function with it.

What Do Pain Specialists Treat?

Pain specialists can treat the full spectrum of pain disorders, but they most often treat chronic pain. Chronic pain is daily pain lasting at least three months that hasn’t been significantly reduced through other treatments.

At UPMC, pain specialists treat conditions that include:

  • Back and neck pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Pain due to nerve injuries
  • Arthritis pain

When Should You See a Pain Specialist?

The majority of people who see pain specialists are referred by another doctor.

A pain specialist can identify the cause of your pain and treat its symptoms. A pain medicine doctor also may consult with other specialists to determine if you are a good candidate for surgery or another procedure to correct an underlying condition, or if pain medicine is a better option.

Dr. Wasan says that getting early treatment for pain improves your chances of finding relief.

What Kind of Results Can You Expect?

For chronic pain, treatment is not a quick fix.

“It’s a process that may involve several different types of treatment,” says Dr. Wasan. “Over a six-month period, patients typically experience a 30 to 50 percent improvement.”

Dr. Wasan views the specialty of pain medicine as pain management. “People suffering from chronic conditions may always have some pain, but specialty care can help them significantly reduce it and manage their pain to prevent it from getting worse.”

Learn more about the UPMC Pain Medicine program and start getting the treatment you need.