For those in pain, a ‘grin and bear it’ approach was an all too common strategy employed in managing their condition. Thanks to advances in pain medicine, chronic sufferers can access help as never before.
The experts below, left to right:
Mr Nitin Shetty, Consultant Orthopaedic Spinal Surgeon; Dr Basil Almahdi, Consultant in Pain Medicine and Anaesthesia; and Dr Patrick McGowan, Consultant in Pain Medicine
Not too many years ago, pain was seen as an inevitability for some patients, a natural consequence arising from a surgical procedure or the result of a particular medical condition. But times have changed, says Dr Basil Almahdi, Consultant Pain Management specialist at Highgate Private Hospital.
Pain used to be seen as an inevitability.
‘Pain Medicine is a new branch of modern medicine that began to surface as a specialty about 30 years ago,’ Dr Almahdi explains.
‘When other medical branches fail to find, or treat the specific cause of a patient’s pain, that’s where we come in.’
Thanks to advances made in the treatment of pain, there is much that can be done to help those with chronic pain conditions.
Managing pain holistically
‘Treating pain correctly requires a multi-disciplinary approach,’ says Dr Almahdi, outlining the team approach to pain management that patients can expect at Highgate Private Hospital, where pain consultants work alongside general surgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, physiotherapists, psychologists and physiotherapists to provide an holistic model of care.
As a pain specialist, Dr Almahdi’s role is to assess patients and set up a pain management plan that draws on other medical specialisms in order to provide patients with access to a range of expertise.
A pain management plan that draws on other medical specialisms.
Dr Almahdi himself oversees drug treatments and interventions such as nerve blocks, radiofrequency ablation and electrical stimulation, while his colleagues will look to treat the pain from other angles.
‘The physiotherapist will help with the physical aspects of pain management, including mobilisation, strengthening, stretching and relaxation,’ he says, while the psychologist will teach the patient ‘psychological tricks’ to alter their perception of the pain.
‘Drug-based treatments on their own are in a minority,’ says Dr Almahdi.
Where drugs are used, the multi-disciplinary approach helps patients to get the most out of minimal doses.
‘This stops drug doses from escalating, which can cause unwanted side-effects and complications,’ he explains.
Back pain is widespread
Among the different types of patients seeking help at Highgate, those with chronic back conditions are among the most common.
‘Back issues are endemic in our society, often because of the types of jobs we do and the lifestyles we lead,’ says Dr Almahdi.
Patients arriving at the hospital with back pain are likely to be seen by an expert Consultant Orthopaedic Spinal Surgeon such as Mr Nitin Shetty for assessment.
If the pain has a specific cause, then there’s a high probability we can get rid of it.
As a specialist in chronic lower back and leg pain, Mr Shetty sees patients whose symptoms are usually the result of injury, ‘wear and tear’ [stenosis], slipped spinal discs, and other organic causes.
‘If the pain has a specific cause, then there’s a high probability we can get rid of it,’ he says.
Not everyone who arrives at the hospital with back pain is comfortable with having surgery.
‘There are some misconceptions with spinal surgery, one being that it’s dangerous. Whilst it’s natural for people to be scared, surgical procedures are very advanced now and can make a massive difference to the quality of a patient’s life. They can also use minimally invasive techniques, which has a significant impact on reducing recovery time.’
Mr Shetty also emphasises the patient benefits that come with a combined approach to pain management.
‘Sometimes when patients come to us, they feel like they’ve been thrown around in the system. If someone is in pain, they need to be seen and assessed quickly, then directed to a pain consultant who can help them manage the pain,’ he says. ‘At Highgate, we take a co-ordinated approach to pain management and have experience of working together as a team to deliver a speedy response.’
Pain can be anywhere and everywhere
Back pain is by no means the only type of discomfort that patients arrive at Highgate Private Hospital seeking treatment for.
‘Pain can be anywhere and everywhere,’ says Dr Almahdi, whose patients on any one day might include those suffering from chronic migraine, facial pain and neuropathic pain.
…chronic migraine, facial pain and neuropathic pain.
Dr Patrick McGowan is another member of the hospital’s Pain Management Unit. He specialises in head and neck pain, often seeing patients in the aftermath of an injury such as whiplash, and providing high quality interventions capable of restoring their quality of life.
‘Advance treatment for head and neck pain is an area in which the hospital excels,’ says McGowan, attributing the calibre of the hospital’s care provision to the quality of its medical staff and the innovative treatments it employs, not widely available elsewhere.
‘We hunt a bit harder for what’s going on and, usually, we’re very successful,’ he says. ‘It’s unusual for us not to be able to offer some improvement for patients.’