What is Pain Management

Pain management is a catchall phrase used to describe multiple types of healthcare services for pain. Pain management can include the following types of services:

  • Acute care for injuries and illness
  • Post-surgical pain care
  • End of life, or palliative, care
  • Burn unit services
  • Wound care
  • Chronic pain management

These different types of care are usually considered to fall into three broad categories:

  • Acute pain management
  • Terminal, or palliative, care
  • Chronic pain management

The goal of each type of pain management is the control of pain. However, each type differs in what the control of pain looks like.

In acute pain care, the goal is typically to control pain while also trying to cure the underlying condition that is causing pain.  Sometimes, it is intended to reduce pain until the underlying condition naturally heals. In palliative care, the goal of pain management is to keep the patient as comfortable as possible until the end of life. In chronic pain management, the goal of care is to maintain pain at a tolerable level while assisting the patient to return to work or other important life activities.

As patients, it’s important to understand the condition that one has and whether it is:

  • An acute condition, for which a cure or healing can be expected
  • A terminal condition, which has no cure and will bring about the end of life
  • A chronic pain condition, which typicaly has no cure but will not bring about death; patients have chronic conditions throughout the course of their natural life

In general, the type of condition a patient has determines the type of pain management the patient receives.

Typically, pain management employs an interdisciplinary model of care. Interdisciplinary care involves the services from multiple types of providers. Common types of providers that work in pain management are the following:

  • Physicians and surgeons
  • Psychologists
  • Physical therapists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Nurses
  • Social workers

Pain management usually involves some combination of these different types of providers. They work together as a team to provide the best overall care.

In the current healthcare system, chronic pain management itself is pursued in four different ways:

Most of the time, each of these different types of services involves interdisciplinary care.

Date of publication: April 27, 2012

Date of last modification: October 23, 2015

Murray J. McAllister, PsyD, is a pain psychologist and consults to health systems on improving pain. He is the editor and founder of the Institute for Chronic Pain (ICP). The ICP is an educational and public policy think tank. In its mission is to lead the field in making pain management more empirically supported, the ICP provides academic quality information on chronic pain that is approachable to patients and their families. 

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