HEALTHY LIVING
08/16/2013 08:55 am ET

Are Doctors Being Trained Enough To Treat Chronic Pain?

Getty

Not enough doctors have been adequately trained to treat chronic pain, according to a new review of studies.

Published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, researchers from Henry Ford Hospital reviewed studies and standards regarding the management of chronic pain in patients, as well as training in treating chronic pain among doctors.

Among their findings was the fact that for every medical specialist in pain, there are 28,500 people who experience chronic pain. In addition, a past study showed that pain management courses were only offered at four of 117 medical schools in the U.S. and Canada that were reviewed in the analysis.

According to the Institute of Medicine, as many as 100 million Americans experience chronic pain.

"Pain is the most common reason a patient sees a physician. For most patients, the duration of pain is short," study researcher Raymond Hobbs, M.D., a physician at Henry Ford Internal Medicine, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, for some patients the pain never goes away. It is these situations that present physicians with their greatest challenge since few are formally trained in effectively managing pain."

Hobbs noted that doctors should keep in mind the role negative emotions can play in chronic pain, since studies have shown that emotions can affect how pain is perceived.

Indeed, a study conducted by University of Montreal researchers released earlier this year showed that stress levels are associated with pain intensity among chronic pain patients. And a study in the journal Nature Neuroscience published last year showed that it may be possible to predict who will experience chronic pain based on their brain activity involved in learning and emotional response, Science NOW reported.

In addition, the management of chronic pain with opioids needs to be carefully managed because of the risk of overdose -- and overdose deaths. Therefore, instead of going straight to long-acting opioids, short-acting opioids should first be prescribed to figure out what kind of dose the patient needs in the first place, he noted.

"If large doses of breakthrough medications are needed on a regular basis, then the physician should consider increasing the long-acting medications and evaluating whether the underlying problem is worsening," Hobbs said in the statement.

CONVERSATIONS