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Chronic Pain (cont.)

What Increases Your Risk

Risk factors are things that increase your chances of getting sick or having a problem. Risk factors for chronic pain include:

  • Aging. Older adults are more likely to have certain health problems that can lead to chronic pain, such as arthritis, diabetes, and shingles.
  • Certain health problems. These include:
    • Existing health conditions, such as fibromyalgia, shingles, arthritis, depression or anxiety disorders, or phantom limb pain.
    • Past health problems, such as joint injuries or past surgeries.
    • Overall general health. You may have a weakened immune system, which can lead to frequent infections or illness.
  • Lifestyle, such as not eating healthy foods, not exercising regularly, smoking, or having a drug or alcohol problem.

Other risk factors include stress, relationship problems, or a history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

When To Call a Doctor

Call a doctor about chronic pain if:

  • Your pain has lasted more than 3 months without a clear reason.
  • You are feeling down or blue or are not enjoying the activities or hobbies that you have enjoyed in the past. You may have depression, which is common with chronic pain.
  • You can't sleep because of the pain.
  • You had an illness or injury that healed, but you still have pain.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is a period of time during which you and your doctor watch your symptoms without using medical treatment.

During this period of watchful waiting, your doctor may have you try to get more sleep, work on reducing stress, and get more exercise. If you are able to control pain with exercise, massage, and pain relievers, you may not need further treatment.

But watchful waiting is not appropriate if your pain is severe or if it interferes with your life. If you delay treatment, the pain may get worse.

Who to see

If you have mild to moderate pain that keeps coming back and that you can't manage at home on your own, you may need to see one of the following health professionals:

  • Family doctor
  • Internist, a doctor who specializes in the care of adults
  • Nurse practitioner, a nurse who has advanced training
  • Physician assistant, a health professional who practices medicine under a doctor's supervision
  • Doctor of osteopathy, a doctor who uses manipulation or manual treatment, but also medicine, surgery, and other kinds of treatment

If your chronic pain is moderate to severe and is constant, or if treatment does not control the pain, you may need to see a specialist, such as one or more of the following:

  • Pain management specialist, a doctor who specializes in treating chronic pain
  • Physiatrist, a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation
  • Physical therapist, someone who evaluates physical problems and injuries and then provides education and treatment
  • Neurologist, a doctor who specializes in treating the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system
  • Anesthesiologist, a doctor who specializes in using pain-blocking techniques and medicines
  • Psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed mental health counselor, all of whom specialize in treating mental health and behavior issues
  • Orthopedic surgeon, a doctor who specializes in bone, muscle, and joint surgery
  • Rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in treating autoimmune diseases and problems in the joints
  • Chiropractor, someone who specializes in treating problems that affect the alignment of muscles and bones

Often more than one specialist will treat your chronic pain. For example, a primary physician may manage your medicines, and a physical therapist may help you restore function through exercise or other treatments. A professional counselor may help you with coping and depression. Someone else may help you with acupuncture or yoga.

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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