Western Medicine: Combating Chronic Pain

If you are a person living with chronic pain, like me, you have probably been examined, evaluated, and diagnosed by a doctor that practices Western medicine referred to as conventional (traditional) or mainstream.

by Celeste Cooper, RN Health Professional

If you are a person living with chronic pain, like me, you have probably been examined, evaluated, and diagnosed by a doctor that practices Western medicine referred to as conventional (traditional) or mainstream. But, what is this philosophy, who practices this form of medicine, and how do practitioners treat chronic pain?

Western Medicine

Western medicine is different from alternative, Eastern, and Ayurvedic practices, but they share a common goal—to heal pain and suffering. In general, alternative medicine practitioners believe in supporting the body so it can mend itself and traditional (Western) doctors look for what is broken, diagnose the problem, and go about trying to repair it. However, in the case of most chronic pain, there is no cure so the goal is to minimize the effects of the primary problem. That may not always be enough, according to the International Association for the Study of Chronic Pain, which says that chronic pain is a disease separate from its origin.

Regardless, our doctors are likely to treat our chronic pain with the goal of reducing our symptoms. They prescribe medications and may refer us to a pain doctor who is trained to perform interventional procedures that will hopefully minimize our misery.

Allopathic vs. Osteopathic

Two types of doctors practice Western medicine, allopathic (medical doctors, or M.D.’s) and osteopathic (doctors of osteopathy, or D.O.’s). They are similar in their philosophies, but there are differences. An M.D., governed by the American Medical Association, focuses on diagnosis and treatment of human diseases. The D.O., governed by the American Osteopathic Association, sees the patient as a whole person, and all parts are connected: body, mind, and spirit. Many D.O.’s also perform osteopathic manipulation (OMT), which sets them apart from their M.D. counterparts.Both M.D.’s and D.O.’s pass the same medical state boards and share the same opportunities to specialize in pain medicine. Some M.D.’s and D.O.’s also practice integrative medicine, which is gaining favor in conventional pain care.

Integrative Medicine

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), integrative health care blends conventional and complementary approaches in a coordinated way. Additionally, the NIH states that researchers are exploring the potential benefits for pain management of integrative medicine for military personnel and veterans, relief of symptoms in cancer patients and survivors, and more.

But, despite growing evidence that a multi-faceted approach is helpful for minimizing chronic pain, the insurance industry lags in reimbursement. This puts the burden of balanced care for body, mind, and spirit back in our pocketbooks, making it more difficult to access a full-on, no-holds-barred approach.

Pain Care Approach

We are encouraged to take a whole health approach to managing our pain and being proactive. Practitioners don’t always consult or even agree on what that is, however, there are basic considerations. Pain care from a traditional physician should include a physical exam, evaluation, and treatment plan with the goal of improving their patient’s outcome, which includes less pain and improved function.

“I will establish goals according to their worthiness, my ability to execute the plan, and my willingness to make revisions as many times as it takes.” - Celeste Cooper, a personal affirmation

Treatment of chronic pain varies, even between pain specialists. So, be sure to look for a pain doctor that fits best with your personal and cultural beliefs. A treatment plan should be based on individual needs and agreed upon outcomes. Both physician and patient should recognize the need for re-evaluation and the importance of a trusting physician-patient relationship built on considerations from both parties.

Celeste Cooper, RN
Meet Our Writer
Celeste Cooper, RN

Celeste Cooper, R.N., is a freelance writer focusing on chronic pain and fibromyalgia. She is lead author of Integrative therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and the Broken Body, Wounded Spirit: Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain book series. She enjoys her family, writing and advocating, photography, and nature. Connect with Celeste through Twitter @PainedInkSlayer.