While at the doctor’s office, we’ve all seen the pain chart with the smiley face at level 0 that ramps up to a miserable level 10.
But that simple chart is anything but the comprehensive and multi-modal approach that chronic pain experts use nowadays to treat patients.
Advanced pain management treatment is much more comprehensive and catered to relieving long-term chronic pain for patients by being less reliant on medication and, instead, offering a team approach across many medical disciplines.
“There’s been a lot of evolution over the years in how we manage pain,” said Dr. Amanda Wallace, medical director of UCHealth Pain Management Clinic in Steamboat Springs. “The focus is on the individual and how to best meet the patient where they are. It’s not one size fits all.”
What is chronic pain?
About one in five American adults — 50.2 million people — live with chronic pain, meaning they experience it every day or most days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While pain is a signal from the body to the brain that something is wrong, chronic pain goes far beyond the original injury or occurs along with a chronic health condition, like arthritis.
“With chronic pain, we can’t turn back the clock,” said Wallace, “but we can keep it in check and dial down the pain signal. We want to help patients stay active, stay engaged and keep them going.”
Wallace said she and her team approach pain management by wanting to know how it is preventing a patient from doing what they want to do, whether it’s playing with a grandchild, riding a bike, or even cleaning the house. If left unchecked, experiencing chronic pain can become a vicious cycle, potentially affecting a person’s moods, ruining relationships and wreaking havoc on work and home life.
“Pain touches everyone,’’ she said. “The difference is the degree and severity of the pain that each of us may experience.”
Multimodal approach to controlling pain
Opioid abuse and addiction are at epidemic levels in the United States, with about three million Americans having had or currently suffering from opioid use disorder, according to the National Library of Medicine.
While opioids and other drugs have a role in managing pain, Wallace said medication should be better managed, prescribed less frequently and be just one component of a holistic approach that uses research and evidence-based findings to produce better patient outcomes.
For instance, a team of providers may offer a treatment plan that includes physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic and massage care, yoga and injection therapies, while using narcotics only sparingly.
“It’s a more catered, coordinated and individualized way to treat a patient,” she said.
Advancements in pain management focus on a better life
Wallace urges patients not to give up in their quest for relief and to talk with their provider about how advancements in pain management can help them.
“Chronic pain might be a part of your life, but we are going to reduce its impact on you, hopefully making it background noise,” she said. “It might be a new normal for you, but one where you’re still active and perhaps doing different activities that better fit where you are now. Our goal is to get you back out there enjoying your life.”
This story first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot.