The following list will give you some information about the different kinds of health care professionals that many people with chronic pain will see. Please note it does not show any order of recommendation as to who you should see – this will greatly depend on the type of pain you have and who you find the most helpful.
General practitioner (GP)
Your GP or local doctor is usually your main health care provider. He or she is often the first point of contact for someone with ongoing pain. A good GP is someone who:
• you feel comfortable with and trust – you feel you can ask him or her anything and you have confidence in what they tell you
• understands chronic pain and has experience in treating pain similar to yours or is willing to learn – not all doctors have been trained to treat chronic pain
• is willing to really listen to you and spend time talking to you about what you are experiencing, how pain is affecting your life, and what your treatment options are, including any possible side-effects of treatments
• will communicate with other members of your health care team, where appropriate, so that you receive co-ordinated health care, not just bouncing from one doctor or health professional to another.
There are a number of different medical specialists that you may be referred to for diagnosis and/or pain management, depending on the type of pain you have. These can include, but are not limited to:
A neurologist – a doctor who specialises in the functioning and diseases of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system.
A neurosurgeon – specialises in, amongst other things, nerves that branch out from the spine. If needed, this kind of doctor will perform surgery on the spine or spinal cord.
An orthopaedic surgeon – specialises in diagnosis and surgical treatment of bone, muscle and joint problems.
Pain specialists – doctors who have specialised training in the diagnosis and management of pain problems.
Rheumatologist – a doctor who specialises in processes that involve joints and soft tissues, including multi-system auto-immune diseases, as well as chronic pain (under the heading ”fibromyalgia syndrome”, FMS) and chronic fatigue (CFS). They help investigate complex, often ambiguous medical processes.
Allied health professionals
Allied health professionals are people who provide a variety of services that may help you with different aspects of living with chronic pain. They can include:
Occupational therapists (OT) – can help you adapt your environment and show you ways to make activities of daily living, such as housework and personal care, easier, and provide advice on useful aids or equipment.
Physiotherapists – can provide advice on exercise, posture and ways to relieve pain, as well as use treatments to maintain joint and muscle movement.
Psychologists – can teach you different ways of thinking about and coping with pain.
Rehabilitation counsellors – can help you with employment and retraining issues. Rehabilitation Counsellors can help you navigate your way through complex rehabilitation systems.
Social workers – can provide support and help with different aspects of your life that may be affected by your pain, such as your family life, income and housing, and other life problems.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
CAM refers to forms of health care that are used in addition (complementary) or instead of (alternative) traditional medical treatment. They can include:
Whoever you decide to include in your pain management team, remember that this is your body and your pain – you are the only one who really knows what your pain is like and how it is affecting your life. Your health care team should work with you and should communicate with each other.