Approximately 50 million Americans currently live with chronic pain. If you are one of them, living the life you want to live may seem impossible. But there is hope. If you haven’t been able to get relief, consider visiting a pain clinic.
A pain clinic is a facility for diagnosing and managing chronic pain. Some clinics specialize in specific diagnoses or pain in certain areas. Most pain clinics take a multidisciplinary approach to help people manage pain and regain control of their lives. These clinics treat the whole person not just pain.
While different pain clinics may have different focuses, most have teams of healthcare providers ready to provide you tools and strategies for managing your pain.
They may have doctors who specialize in different areas, along with non-physician specialists, including psychologists, physical therapists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and other specialists. These people will work together to create a pain management plan.
The specialist at a pain clinic will tailor a plan to your individual needs, preferences, and circumstances. Treatment options may include:
- Medications such as non-aspirin pain relievers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, opioids such as morphine, or antidepressants.
- Local anesthetic sometimes in conjunction with a corticosteroid. These may be injected into a muscle, or near a nerve in the form of a nerve block.
- Physical Therapy can restore strength and flexibility and can decrease pain in some patients.
- Hydrotherapy such as whirlpool or other water-based therapy can sometimes offer relief.
- Massage can help to relieve tension that can exacerbate pain.
- Electrical Stimulation can stimulate the nerves and offer relief.
- Acupuncture or Acupressure uses fine needles or external pressure to stimulate certain areas.
- Counseling and Psychological Therapy can help patients manage some of the effects of pain on other parts of their lives.
- Relaxation, Meditation, or Biofeedback can help the patient learn to manage the tension that is both caused by the pain and, in turn, aggravates pain.
- Surgery is a last resort option for patients who have not found relief with other treatments.
If you think a pain clinic might be able to help you, talk to your doctor for a referral. If your doctor is unable to help, you can contact your local hospital, the nearest medical school, or an organization, such as the American Society of Anesthesiologists, that supports pain research.
Not all pain clinics offer the same types of treatment, so you should do a little research before agreeing to treatment. Schedule an appointment with the clinic. Ask what type of therapies are offered, what types of specialists are available, and whether they have helped others with the same type of pain. Finally, ask yourself if you feel comfortable with the team and the answers you received. If you are not comfortable with the clinic, you will have a harder time making progress.
Try these strategies to help you overcome the insurance barriers and get the coverage you need to manage pain.
- Know your insurance plan. Ask your insurance company which medications and pain management therapies are covered under your plan. Find out if your plan requires a referral from your family doctor or pre-authorization from the insurance company before you can see a specialist or physical therapist. Understand the co-payments you will have to provide. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about any aspect of coverage that you don’t fully comprehend.
- Don’t assume that any step or paperwork has been taken care of by any party. Make sure the specialists, therapists, or hospitals treating you are covered by your plan. Before you see a pain management specialist, find out if your family doctor has filed any required referral with your insurance company. Check afterward to make sure that doctors you see follow through and file a claim with the insurance company.
- Keep records of everything. Keep all of your bills and correspondence with doctors, hospitals, and your insurance company. Get copies of the bills and claims your doctors file with the insurance company. “Often, denial is based on some sort of processing error rather than a treatment issue,” Rowe says. “Something didn’t happen the way it was supposed to happen.” Having detailed records will help when there’s a dispute.
- Challenge every denial.“The first thing is, don’t take no for an answer,” Rowe says. “Denial is usually the first response you get.” Find out your insurance company’s procedures for appealing a denial and follow up. Every company is required by law to provide an appeals process for claims that have been denied.
Perhaps most important of all, get your doctor on your side. The doctors you see can be crucial allies in getting the pain management coverage you need. “Work with your physician or health & education care provider to write the kind of information necessary to get your coverage,” Rowe says. “Often it’s one word that’s missing in a statement that forces a denial, and if that word were included you would get coverage.” Your doctor also can help you make the argument for a pain management therapy you need.