Helping patients improve their quality of life is just one of our goals at MedStar St. Mary's. Our experienced team is committed to providing the best possible care through individually tailored treatment plans using a variety of proven pain management options. The role of the pain management physician is to help identify the underlying cause of the pain, and when options for cure are not available, to reduce the devastating impact that chronic pain has on daily life.

We offer chronic pain sufferers a multi-disciplinary approach to pain control that is tailored to each patient's individual needs. Typically, patients have lived with chronic pain for a number of years and have been treated and medicated by several physicians. Many have become dependent on medications and have acquired a constellation of disabling symptoms that are eroding the quality of their lives.

Our focus is on treating not just the symptoms, but the whole person. Our goals are to diagnose the pain syndrome, reduce the subjective experience of pain, assist with medication management, improve the individual's ability to control pain and improve physical and emotional functioning.

Who We Treat

We treat patients with all types of chronic pain, including:

  • Back pain/Sciatica
  • Cervical (neck) pain
  • Failed back syndrome
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Facial pain
  • Other neuropathic pain
  • Headaches (including migraine)
  • Cancer pain
  • Pain of shingles (Herpes Zoster/ Post Herpetic Neuralgia)
  • Pelvic pain
  • Central pain syndromes (from spinal cord/injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, etc.)
  • Phantom Limb pain

Pain is Subjective

The pain that one person feels may be excruciating, while another person may describe their pain as moderate or even mild. The more accurately you can describe your pain, the better your physician can determine its cause and how to treat it. Aside from indicating where you feel pain and when it started, answers to the following can help your physician better understand your pain:

  • How would you describe the pain: dull, sharp, aching, throbbing, shooting or burning?
  • From mild to the worst pain of your life, how intense is your pain?
  • How does the pain affect your sleep, daily activities and mood?
  • What specific movements/activities make your pain worse?
  • How do you ease your pain?

In-Home Pain Management Services

MedStar Visiting Nurse Association's (VNA) main goal is to help patients with acute or chronic pain achieve and maintain their maximum level of independence and comfort. Through self-care education, therapy and skilled nursing services, MedStar VNA's patients are able to safely remain in their homes, even after home healthcare is no longer needed.

In-Home Pain Management Services offered:

  • Pain Evaluation and Management
  • Medication Management
  • Symptom Control Measures
  • Proper Repositioning to Reduce Pain
  • Alternative Measures to Control Pain
  • Disease Process Education
  • Post-Operative Teaching
  • Wound Care
  • In-Home IV Therapy
  • Activities of Daily Living Support
  • Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Ambulation and Transfer Techniques
  • Home Safety Evaluation and Education

Conditions often requiring in-home pain management:

  • Diagnosis or recent onset of disease
  • Recent hospitalization
  • Patients with acute or chronic pain
  • Pain after joint replacement surgery
  • Pain after surgery
  • Cancer-related pain
  • Wound pain
  • Gastric bypass complications

Frequently Asked Questions

Do non-prescription medications really reduce pain?

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and ibuprofen (Advil) are all marketed as pain-relief medications. To decide which of these FDA-approved drugs is best for you, you should consult with your physician and read the label for side effects. Don't ignore the label when taking a nonprescription medicine. When it comes to medicines, more does not necessarily mean better. You should never misuse OTC medicines by taking them longer or in higher doses than the label recommends. Symptoms that persist are a clear signal it's time to see a doctor.

Do I need to see a specialist for my pain?

Certain types of pain require the attention of a medical specialist, such as a neurologist, physiatrist, orthopedic, spine, or shoulder surgeon. There are also doctors who specialize in treating pain, as well as pain clinics that offer comprehensive pain management programs. Finding the right doctor and the right pain management program is critical to the success of your treatment. MedStar Health has pain specialists that are trained in the latest treatment and pain relief techniques.

Will pain medicine help me?

Several types of pain medications are available to relieve pain, but not all pain medications work effectively in all people. Tell your doctor immediately if you're not getting adequate relief from prescribed medication, or if the side effects are bothersome or unacceptable. Work with your doctor to find the therapy that's best for you, which may mean adjusting the dose or switching to a different type of pain medicine. Keep in mind that medication is only one aspect of effective pain management. Ask your doctor if non-drug treatments, such as physical therapy, exercise or relaxation techniques would be helpful.

Do pain medications cause side effects?

Most pain medications cause side effects, some more serious than others. The commonly prescribed NSAID pain relievers irritate the lining in the stomach and intestines, which can cause ulcers or gastrointestinal bleeding. Side effects of other commonly prescribed pain drugs include constipation, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness. Sometimes side effects occur when you begin therapy and go away after your body gets used to the medication. Certain types of pain medicine can also cause physical dependence.

Do pain medications cause seizures?

Although uncommon, there is a risk of seizure associated with some pain medications. It is important to tell your health care professional if you previously have had a seizure and if you are taking opioid analgesics or medications commonly used to treat depression (e.g., amitriptyline, fluoxetine). Also, taking pain medications above the recommended dosage increases the risk of seizures.

Should I take other medication to manage the side effects of my pain therapy?

While taking medications to relieve the side effects of pain therapy may offer temporary relief, it could also disguise a serious medical problem. Many patients, for example, take antacids or acid blockers to ease stomach distress caused by NSAIDs. But masking gastrointestinal symptoms can lead to critical delays in detection and treatment of emergency complications, such as ulcers.

Will I become addicted to pain medication?

Information indicates that getting addicted to pain medication is rare. It's true that certain pain medications can cause physical dependence, which means the patient may feel flu-like or have other withdrawal symptoms when medication is stopped. In most cases, these symptoms can be avoided through gradual withdrawal based on increasingly smaller doses. It's important to understand that physical dependence does not mean abuse or addiction. Certain pain medications can be abused in order to get high or for effects other than pain relief. Addiction is a psychological problem that compels people to abuse pain drugs. Don't let any misunderstandings of the difference between physical dependence, abuse, and addiction prevent you from getting the most effective relief for your pain.

Can I take nonprescription pain relievers in addition to prescription pain drugs?

Sometimes, people have intensified bouts of pain that are not controlled by otherwise effective pain therapy. If this happens, you may be tempted to take nonprescription drugs for added relief. But first ask your doctor or pharmacist if it's safe. Combinations of certain pain relievers could cause serious problems.

How often should I take my pain medication?

Many patients wait until their pain is severe before taking medication. But pain is easier to control when it is mild. Your doctor will probably tell you to take your pain medication on a regular basis. This may mean taking it the same time every day. Work with your doctor to develop a personal daily plan for your pain control.

Besides taking medicine, what else can I do to manage my pain?

Pain medication is only one aspect of effective pain management. Your doctor might suggest several types of non-drug treatments in addition to drug therapy including: physical therapy, exercise, breathing and relaxation techniques, biofeedback, massage, hot or cold packs, nerve stimulation, or dietary changes. Ask your doctor to discuss the types of non-drug pain management approaches that may help you.

Pain can make you feel sad, angry, vulnerable, and lonely - or a host of other negative emotions. Many people have learned to cope with these emotions through professional counseling or patient support groups. MedStar Health has many of these services. People respond to pain in different ways. Some people even believe that acknowledging pain is a character weakness. Keep in mind that pain is a medical condition. You should expect to be treated for pain just like you expect treatment for other medical problems. But remember, it's your responsibility to ask your doctor to help you control your pain.

Is my pain all in my head?

This question is often asked by people who have been told that they will have to learn to live with their pain. At times, it is difficult to pin down a specific physical cause for the pain. But that does not lessen the suffering. When we experience any pain, it is in both our bodies and minds. We cannot separate the physical and psychological affects any situation has on us.

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is pain that continues a month or more beyond the usual recovery period for an injury or illness or that goes on for months or years due to a chronic condition. The pain is usually not constant but can interfere with daily life at all levels.

How can I make my family understand how much pain I'm in?

There is no way for another person to feel your pain. It is more important for them to understand what their role is in helping you manage the pain. While family members don't feel the physical pain, their lives are affected in much the same way as that of the person with pain. It can help to read what others who live with a person with pain have to say and learn how to cope with the changes in their life and yours.

I don't understand why my doctor is asking me to take a new medicine. How can I find out more about what it is for and ways it might affect me?

The best way to have all your questions answered is to ask your doctor. But visits to the doctor can be emotional and often we don't think about questions until we have returned home. It is important to write down your questions.