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What’s a pain specialist and why should I see one?

Many patients referred to a pain specialist have usually seen quite a number of different specialists.

Many patients referred to a pain specialist have usually seen quite a number of different specialists.

For example, for those of us troubled by back pain, most will have seen one or more of the following people – an orthopaedic surgeon, rheumatologist, neurosurgeon or musculoskeletal physician to name but a few.

In addition, most people have usually engaged with a physiotherapist or osteopath and have spoken to their GP.

Who is a pain specialist?

Qualifications. All pain specialists are doctors. Check first when you’re seeing a pain specialist that they are medically qualified doctors (they usually have the letters MBBS after their names) and are recognised as pain specialist doctors with the letters FFPMANZCA after their name.

All pain specialists have qualified in a primary specialty, and then gone on to do further training to specialise in pain management.

Many pain specialists have a background in anaesthetics or rehabilitation medicine, but could also be from backgrounds such as general practice, rheumatology, surgery or psychiatry.

Training. All pain specialists will have developed their interest in pain management during their training in their primary speciality.

For instance, anaesthetists will undergo training on how to treat the acute pain that a patient having surgery will experience. After this basic training, a pain specialist will complete at least two more years of formal training in centres of expertise in pain management.

They will be assessed regularly by senior pain specialists and have to pass assessments and exams before they are awarded FFPMANZCA.

Skills. During training a pain specialist will learn a number of different skills. They will learn more about different medications that help in chronic pain and how to use them safely and effectively.

Many pain specialists will learn specific injection techniques that can help with some pain problems.

Most importantly though, they learn how to combine pain remedies with working alongside a team of other practitioners such as general practitioners, physiotherapists, psychologists, exercise physiologists etc.

This ensures they know all about you, the patient, and use as many ways as possible to manage your pain. There’s no point for example referring someone to a physiotherapist to help with their back pain if, as a specialist, you don’t know what a physiotherapist does!

Why do people get referred to a pain specialist?

Patients are referred to pain specialists by their general practitioner, members of the allied health team such as a physio – or another specialist.

It’s preferable to get a referral from your general practitioner as this lasts longer. This referral has been made to use the above skills that a pain specialist has.

It is often the case that the pain you’ve experienced (usually for a long period of time) can’t be totally cured. This is because in many chronic pain situations the pain has developed as part of us getting older or we have developed other medical problems (eg arthritis or diabetes) that themselves cannot be cured and cause pain. This is often immensely frustrating.

The goal of a pain specialist is to ensure this pain, and its impact on your life is minimised.

See a pain specialist and their colleagues with an open mind and realistic expectations – and they will do their best to help you reach the goals you set.

What a pain specialist does at the first assessment, and the different options they use to manage your pain will be covered in further articles to come.

By Dr Tim Hucker, Pain Specialist at Brellah and Northern Beaches Pain Management.

Dr Timothy Hucker MBBS FRCA FFPMANZCA FANZCA is a highly qualified pain specialist, with specific expertise in back and neck pain, nerve pain, pelvic pain and cancer-related pain.

In addition to being a Pain Specialist, Dr Hucker is an examiner for future pain specialists at the Faculty of Pain Medicine, an adviser for the Faculty of Pain Medicine on interventional pain management, a lecturer at Monash University, a published author of scientific papers and book chapters on Pain Medicine, and the Chair of the working party for adult cancer pain management guidelines at the Cancer Council Australia. Dr Hucker also lectures on cancer and chronic pain management.

This article is for information purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice, is general in nature, not tailored to your personal circumstances and you should seek your own medical advice from an independent medical professional with regards to what options are best for you.