What Does A Pain Management Doctor Do?

//What Does A Pain Management Doctor Do?

What Does A Pain Management Doctor Do?

What does a pain management doctor do? These highly-trained and highly-specialized doctors diagnose conditions, coordinate treatment, and provide ongoing care for pain patients. They work most often with chronic pain patients who have experienced symptoms for three months or longer. Let’s take a look at how pain management doctors provide this level of care, what you can expect during your first visit, and how to find pain management doctors near you.

What is a pain management doctor? 

The American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine (ASRA) defines a pain management doctor as: “a physician with special training in evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of all different types of pain.”

Pain management doctors have advanced training that makes them a better fit if you suffer from pain. While your primary care doctor can and should help in some cases, for advanced types of pain they’ll likely refer you to a pain management doctor. A pain management doctor has gone through an additional one-year fellowship in pain management after their general residency. They’re also board-certified in their specialties.

A pain management doctor may treat pain related to acute sports injuries. Or, they can work with patients afflicted with cancer pain. Most, however, work with chronic pain patients. Pain is considered chronic if it’s lasted for three or more months. This type of pain can be hard to diagnose, require multiple therapies to treat, and take months or years to treat. However, some pain patients will require care throughout their life.

Conditions treated 

The most common types of conditions that a pain management doctor treats include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Knee pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Arthritis
  • Head pain and migraines
  • Hip pain
  • Neck pain
  • Sciatica
  • Nerve pain
  • CRPS

You can find more information about all of these conditions in our pain library.

So, what does a pain management doctor do? They treat pain. But the complexities of pain make this a much more specialized area of healthcare than that simple answer lets on.

What Does A Pain Management Doctor Do? | PainDoctor.com

What is a pain clinic? 

A pain management doctor operates most often out of pain clinics. Pain clinics differ in their approach, but the best ones will coordinate a comprehensive, team-based, and holistic approach to managing and treating your pain. This team approach is the best way to diagnose the cause of your pain and find treatments that work.

WebMD explains:

“These health care providers are likely to include doctors of different specialties as well as non-physician providers specializing in the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. These providers may include psychologists, physical therapists, and complementary and alternative therapists such as acupuncturists or massage therapists.”

You may also work with:

  • Chiropractors
  • Interventional pain management doctors
  • Health and wellness counselors
  • Biofeedback specialists

The best pain clinics will also combine a warm, caring approach with access to the most advanced cutting-edge treatment options for pain.

What does a pain management doctor do? 

Your pain management timeline will vary depending on your condition, but most patients can expect to go through these steps. The following video also shows how two interventional pain management doctors from Arizona approach the topic of comprehensive pain management.

1. Diagnoses the cause of your pain 

Diagnosing the exact cause of your pain is the first step to finding a treatment that works. A pain management doctor is specialized in the many causes of pain, and the underlying conditions leading to pain.

Pain isn’t straightforward. Lower back pain could be caused by many conditions, for example. It could be musculoskeletal in nature and related to your posture at your work desk, where a forward-leaning head is putting pressure on your neck that’s felt down to your back. Your lower back pain could be due to a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. It could be related to sciatica. Or, your pain could be due to a degenerative condition like arthritis or degenerative disc disease.

And that’s just one pain condition. HealthCommunities.com explains:

“Pain management specialists use a number of techniques to diagnose and treat pain disorders. Pain evaluations often include taking a personal and family medical history, assessing the patient’s lifestyle (e.g., activity level), reviewing prior tests (e.g., blood tests, imaging tests, electrodiagnostic studies), and performing a physical examination.”

2. Discusses potential therapies that could help 

With their specialized training, pain management doctors have access to the latest research on therapies that work. They’re also likely conducting their own trials and studies on patients whose pain hasn’t responded to conventional therapies.

After diagnosing your pain, a pain management doctor will review available therapies for your condition and find the one that works best for you. Great pain doctors will use interventional or pharmaceutical treatments in conjunction with complementary therapies. For many patients, using complementary therapies can reduce the amount of medication you have to take or the procedures you have to undergo.

Your pain management plan may include a variety of complementary therapies, including:

  • Massage
  • Weight loss
  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Diet changes
  • Chiropractic care
  • Meditation

Prescription medications may include:

  • Opioids
  • Antidepressants
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications

Interventional treatments may include:

  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Nerve blocks
  • Joint injections
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Spinal cord stimulation
  • Neuromodulation

Read more about each of these therapies in our post on interventional pain management.

Although no single remedy will cure your pain, combining multiple methods can help you find the best mix to maximize your quality of life. In severe cases, surgery may be warranted. This should only be used when other less invasive methods haven’t worked, or your condition is seriously affecting your quality of life.

What Does A Pain Management Doctor Do? | PainDoctor.com

A note on medications

If you do use prescription medications to manage your pain, it’s important to be smart about taking it. Additionally, your pain management plan shouldn’t rely entirely on medications. If your pain management doctor suggests this, it may be time to see a new doctor.

Next, you may be seeing multiple doctors, even taking prescriptions written by different doctors. Update each doctor about all the medications you take. This is critical for ensuring appropriate dosages and preventing unsafe drug interactions. Sometimes, two separate drugs should not be taken together because of the way they interact in the body. Doctors working in different practices may not communicate with one another. As a result, each medical professional you see may only have the ability to review the records he or she keeps. That’s why updating your pain management doctors and telling them about all the medications you take is so important for creating a safe and effective painkiller management plan.

Next, stick to your doctor-recommended dosage. Taking more medicine than prescribed can lead to serious health impacts, or even overdose. If your existing dose does not alleviate your suffering, call your doctor to discuss your symptoms and possible treatments. Making sure to stay in close contact with your health care provider and consulting them before making any changes can help you keep safe and your pain managed.

3. Coordinates care between multiple healthcare professionals 

Your pain management doctor acts as the lead in your pain management plan. As a post on ZocDoc explains:

“The discipline is multidisciplinary, meaning that you don’t just see a doctor but also will likely have the opportunity to interact with a physical therapist and a counselor. In this way, a comprehensive holistic plan for addressing your pain can be developed.”

Once your pain management doctor has determined the types of therapies that could work for you, they’ll coordinate your care across multiple doctors and healthcare professionals. While you’ll need to be a dedicated and responsive advocate for your care, you can put a lot of responsibility on your pain doctor and clinic for coordinating that care.

4. Performs any interventional procedures 

If you do need interventional treatments, such as steroid injections or neuromodulation, your pain management doctor will likely perform them. You can find live videos of many procedures on our YouTube channel. These can help you know what to expect before your procedure, and during your recovery. You can see an example of this in the following radiofrequency ablation video.

Again, a good pain management doctor should be combining these interventional procedures with complementary therapies to reduce the risk of side effects and improve your overall health outcomes.

5. Continues ongoing care for mental and physical concerns 

Unfortunately, for many patients, visiting a pain management doctor won’t provide full relief from pain. As one pain management doctor writes:

“Especially if you’re experiencing chronic back or knee pain, in many cases, we consider your treatment a success if we get rid of 50 percent of your pain and help you to be more functional.”

Because of the burden of chronic pain, a good pain doctor will work with you to continue treatments that relieve your symptoms. They’ll also introduce therapies that help to relieve the mental burden of chronic pain, such as talk therapy or meditation.

Should I visit a pain management doctor?

When should you visit a pain doctor?

  • If pain is ruling your life or limiting the amount of activities you can engage in
  • You’ve tried at-home or natural therapies to relieve your pain and haven’t found relief
  • If your primary care doctor hasn’t been able to diagnose the cause of your pain
  • Your pain has lasted for three months or more
  • You have any severe or debilitating types of pain

As EverydayHealth explains:

“As with any ailment, the first stop for patients looking for pain treatment should be their primary care physician. However, if you can’t find a satisfactory pain management program within an appropriate length of time or if your pain is getting worse, referral to a pain specialist may be the next step.”

What should I bring to my first visit to a pain management doctor? 

For your first visit, your doctor will focus on diagnosing the exact cause of your pain. Because of this, you should bring:

  • A pain journal (if you have one) that details your symptoms, triggers, and pain intensity over a given period
  • Your treatment history, as well as any X-ray or MRI scans
  • A list of any medications you’re currently taking
  • Your insurance information
  • Any information about what makes your pain better or worse

A forum post on Drugs.com also has answers to this question from pain patients across the U.S. Most of all, make sure to be honest and upfront during your first visit. Explain exactly how you’re feeling, what you’ve tried, as well as your for pain relief. A good pain doctor will listen to your concerns with a compassionate ear and work to put together a pain management plan.

What Does A Pain Management Doctor Do? | PainDoctor.com

How to find pain doctors near me? 

Of course, once you know you want to visit a pain doctor, your first step will be finding one that can help with your pain. ASRA recommends:

“The most important consideration in looking for a pain management specialist is to find someone who has the training and experience to help you with your particular pain problem and with whom you feel a comfortable rapport. Since many types of chronic pain may require a complex treatment plan as well as specialized interventional techniques, pain specialists today must have more training than in the past, and you should learn about how your pain physician was trained and whether he or she has board certification in pain management.”

You can find more information about finding a compassionate, highly-qualified pain management doctor in our post, “How To Find Pain Management Doctors Near You.” We recommend using credentials, as suggested by ASRA, as well as with personal or online reviews to narrow your search. The Arthritis Foundation also has a great list of questions to ask a potential pain clinic before committing to treatment.

You can also find a listing of all of the PainDoctor.com-certified pain management doctors by clicking the button below. These doctors are highly-trained and part of a network of doctors committed to relieving your pain.

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By | 2017-04-13T16:47:36-07:00 April 17th, 2017|Tags: |38 Comments

About the Author:

Pain Doctor
Pain Doctor was created with one mission in mind: help and educate people about their pain conditions, treatment options and find a doctor who can help end their pain issues.


  1. Avatar
    Leviticus Bennett April 19, 2017 at 10:35 am

    My father was recently in a car accident. He already had some minor lower back pains, but they were severely aggravated in this accident. It’s nice to know there are doctors available to help him choose the best way to deal with the pain–whether it’s by yoga or acupuncture or one of the other possible solutions you mentioned.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor July 4, 2017 at 11:12 am

      We are so sorry to hear about your father’s challenges. We agree that complementary therapies can and absolutely should be used as often as possible.

  2. Avatar
    Elizabeth0kipp July 4, 2017 at 1:23 am

    Thanks for such an informative write up.Its really helpful for many.Keep doing such an amazing work.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor July 4, 2017 at 11:12 am

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Avatar
    Greg July 31, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Very informative checklist and read even for long term IP patient.


    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor July 31, 2017 at 6:43 pm

      Glad it was helpful, thanks!

  4. Avatar
    Steven Dixon September 28, 2017 at 1:42 am

    I have a disconcerting question. I’ve broken my neck twice, had fusions, gone through all tests imaginable and have been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease along with anxiety issues, insomnia and most recently multiple sclerosis with seizure disorder. Not my best moments as you can imagine. I’m 38 and was just informed that the medication I’ve taken for over 2 decades that has worked for all practical purposes is being altered. I take xanax and oxycodone. Xanax is prescribed by my primary care physician and pain meds from my pain management doctor. I take random drug screenings when asked and always have. My pain Mngmnt doctor asked me for one and I received a call saying that due to xanax in my system (which he has always known about) he has to decrease my pain medication. What is going on and what are my options?

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor October 2, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      Hi Steven — We’re so sorry to hear about this. Unfortunately we can’t answer specific health questions online. We recommend talking to your doctor for more information. If you want a second opinion, you can find pain specialists at https://paindoctor.com/find-your-pain-doctor/. Hope that helps!

  5. Avatar
    Joya Miller October 10, 2017 at 11:38 pm

    I have Degenerative Disc Disease in my lower back and have been seeing a pain management doctor, unfortunately because of the back issues my insurance changed and they don’t take my new insurance. Do you guys take medicaid or know of any place that takes it? ?

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor October 16, 2017 at 1:04 pm

      Hi Joya — You can find pain doctors here: https://paindoctor.com/find-your-pain-doctor/. You’ll have to contact those nearest you directly to see what insurance or Medicaid options they accept. Hope that helps!

  6. Avatar
    Taylor Bishop October 11, 2017 at 9:31 am

    Thanks for helping me learn more about pain management doctors. It’s good to know that they can offer some different plans with different types of therapies, and can combine different methods. I’m kind of interested to learn more about some of the factors they consider when offering a plan, and how someone’s situation or circumstance affects what treatment to use.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor October 16, 2017 at 1:05 pm

      Hi Taylor — That’s a great point! We’ll consider writing a post on that topic soon. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Avatar
    Julie Ann Brandow October 29, 2017 at 8:34 am

    I have had migraines since I was I 18 years old, I have gone to several doctors and tried many things, I also have pain across my upper shoulders and neck. My mom has migraines and almost all my siblings. They are worse with my menstrual. Also I am a Remote medical coder so I am on a computer all day. Is there something that can be done?
    Thank you.

  8. Avatar
    Amylambhall October 30, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    What are the top drugs used in pain management ? I am on Morphine Sulfate , it doesn’t work welll for me, but I don’t know what else to try. I have taken tramadol, cymbalta, etc.I have degenerative Disc Disease. I have had 4 back surgery’s and half significant nerve damage. And I tried Lyrica. And another thing , but I can not remember what it was.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor November 7, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      Hi there — Unfortunately we can’t answer specific health questions online. We recommend talking to your doctor for more information. If you want a second opinion, you can find pain specialists at https://paindoctor.com/find-your-pain-doctor/. Hope that helps!

  9. Avatar
    Jennifer cook December 12, 2017 at 8:32 am

    I got hurt on Aug of 09 hurt my neck went for surgery on 9-9 16 and been seeing my Dr every 4 mouths. yesterday I went to see him and he told me I would have to see a pain med Dr. I don’t take any med’s for this. I went to Physical therapy and it didn’t help I don’t like needles so I don’t get ejections all I want is to take this pain away. I get bad headaches and can’t take it anymore!!! there isn’t many Dr’s who take comp in Niagara Falls NY

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor December 18, 2017 at 6:36 pm

      So sorry to hear that Jennifer. Hope you find someone who can help.

  10. Avatar
    Lorraine Green December 12, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    I was sooo excited to read many of the articles on paindoctor.com. I was then completely DISAPPOINTED when I found out these doctors are only in three states!! I live in California, so there are no doctors here. I just moved here and there are many who claim to be pain management doctors. The reality,so far, is they are anything but compassionate. First visit they want to implant some pump in me. I already have a useless neuromodulation device in me. I would have loved to have know up front that you are only in three states. You gave me hope then ripped it away!

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor December 18, 2017 at 6:38 pm

      Hi Lorraine — We’re so sorry to hear that you were disappointed. We are looking at moving into more states, but unfortunately only have physical clinics in a handful of states. If you sign up for our email newsletter, you’ll get news for when we open up in new states. We recommend looking up reviews for pain specialists in your area until then, or finding a trusted general practitioner to get recommendations for local referrals.

  11. Avatar
    Joan March 1, 2018 at 12:02 am

    I am 18 months post operative from a thoracolumbar interpediculate fusion t11- ilium. Since surgery my left leg is numb with throbbing pain and back pain is almost a heavy feeling upon sitting or standing for longer than 15 minutes. I’ve completed 6 weeks of aqua therapy, 12 weeks of physical therapy yet still suffer from dibilitating pain. I’m quite frustrated and my pain management doctor appears to be more interested in taking me off pain meds rather than treating my pain.

  12. Avatar
    Stefany May 11, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    I’m trying to find information on pain management, and Former drug abuse, non recreational, due to non treatment of chronic pain. If a Patient does indeed have chronic pain that affects every day life, but a history of addiction due to being on opiates for years then suddenly taken off due to new guidelines, and no treatment plan thereafter, and tagged as drug abuse, will a pain management doctor still treat this person?

  13. Avatar
    betsy May 29, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    Husband has had a pain management doctor since 2005. He was prescribed 75 mcg and oxycodone at that time.. Today, at his visit, he was told that it is mandatory to have Narcan so there was a prescription written for that. There has NEVER been a reason that my husband would overdose on these meds so why is it MANDATORY for him????

  14. Avatar
    Johnny Mitchell June 20, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    If a person with chronic pain with limited right side mobility & limited funds and no family help and every Dr knows that opioids are the only med that give a decent quality of life since the patient has gone thru all alternatives meds and their stroke from 2013 still has their right side a terrible mess. Be pushed to spend $50 xtra dollars for monthly visits + travel. One would think waivers would be given to poor patients like this. We have not seen any folks with major spine injuries being wheeled in this clinics. It seems the opioid bill of 2014 was hastily written with a broad brush and not individualized leaving so many folks in need. We should be in celebration we have these opioids yet we have been treated like criminals since 2015. Pop up pain clinics have been staffed by Non Doctors and non pain experts. The law needs tweaked in a big way.

  15. Avatar
    Aimee Terrell September 7, 2018 at 11:46 am

    I am very happy to have found this site! I sympathize with every person who has commented. I’ve had fibromyalgia for close to 25 years. I could literally write a dissertation about my experiences…good and very bad. I see one doctor and use one pharmacy. My last visit with my only (and beloved) doctor was “the opioid talk”, a Narcan rx which was money out of my pocket and the signed pain med use paper. I went home to bed for 4 days and cried. I felt fear, depressed, sad and scared. What will happen now? A woman called to set an appt with pain doctor. I prepared extensively for this appt. I was weighed, no taken, pulse and asked to pee in a cup. Mr. Man. (I cannot call him Dr.) Interrupted every sentence, made me feel ashamed for being in opioids. I started crying. A cheap looking box of tissues was on the window sill. I had to ask for a tissue for goodness sake! After being in the examination room for maybe 10 min he said, “There’s no need to check your pee.”
    I have never felt so disrespected! I truly thought I was going to meet someone nice and kind that could offer other modalities other than pills. Boy was I wrong. I truly hate, loathe and despise what has happened in our country with the selling and stealing of meds for a buck!

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor September 17, 2018 at 11:40 am

      Thanks for sharing your experiences here Aimee.

  16. Avatar
    Diana Terry November 19, 2018 at 3:52 am

    Hi, and thank you for sharing this informative article. My sister has suffered from chronic pain for more than six months now and the pain doesn’t seem to get any easier. She has tried multiple tips on how to reduce the pain, but nothing seems to work. After reading your article, I’m thinking I should suggest her to go to see a pain management doctor to finally find a proper treatment.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor March 19, 2019 at 10:34 am

      Thanks for your feedback!

  17. Avatar
    Alysia Scott March 13, 2019 at 10:32 am

    hi Ive had fibromyalgia for 23 years and currently am without a pain doctor to continue my current meds. Im having trouble finding and getting into another pain management clinic and am in need of a doctor who understands this disabling disorder and will either bridge my current meds until I can get an appointment into another clinic or is willing to take my case on a permanent basis. can any of your doctors help me out. being Im having a very hard time with pain and fatigue without being able to get the scripts for the meds that I was on.

  18. Avatar
    Alphapain May 23, 2019 at 11:30 pm

    Hello doc, My friend was suffering from chronic pain from past two years. we show them to many doctors but no one’s treatment worked and treatments they offered were so expensive. His entire family is still worried about his condition. now and the pain doesn’t seem to get any easier. As now I have come across you, I got to know that there are specialists who called pain management doctors do exist. so I am gonna inquiry some good in my area on google! Thank you so much. your post is gonna save my brother and many others live over here!

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor May 24, 2019 at 12:09 pm

      Thanks for your kind words!

  19. Avatar
    David Wilson June 11, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    I got hurt years ago with a plate and fusion on my neck I suffered a lot of nerve damage I have been with the same dr for all these years but threw out the years I have tried to get rid of the pain one time I made a appointment with a pain dr I got there he told me the only thing wrong with me is that I was a drug addict I was so mad I got up and walked out I couldn’t believe what I just heard coming out of a doctors mouth . It makes me really scared to try it again .

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor June 17, 2019 at 5:37 pm

      We are so sorry to hear about the experience you had David.

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