Man grabbing his neck
UC Irvine's Center for Pain Management offers comprehensive care for chronic pain, which affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. Stock photo

For an estimated 76 million people in the U.S., pain is a way of life, clouding their days and tormenting their nights. In fact, chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.

UC Irvine’s new Center for Pain Management at Gottschalk Medical Plaza now offers new hope for those suffering from chronic pain. Established by the Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care, it is the only comprehensive, multidisciplinary outpatient practice of its kind in Orange County, providing a complete spectrum of pain management techniques in one location.

“Untreated or poorly managed pain can seriously affect a person’s physical and mental health,” says center director Dr. Justin Hata, an anesthesiology & perioperative care assistant professor. “Our pain management specialists can turn the tide against chronic pain and dramatically improve the quality of our patients’ lives.”

The process begins with a medical history, physical exam and detailed pain assessment. Based on findings, the pain management team – composed of anesthesiologists, neurologists, psychologists, and physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians – formulates a multidisciplinary treatment plan for the patient.

“Each person who suffers from long-term pain has a unique set of physical and psychosocial circumstances,” says Dr. Danielle Perret, assistant professor and pain medicine specialist. “An approach that involves several specialties is critical for successful outcomes.”

Treatment options include:

  • Medications: Alone or in combination, they can be injected, taken orally or delivered through a patch.
  • Nerve blocks: Injecting an anesthetic close to a nerve pathway prevents pain messages from reaching the brain.
  • Spinal cord stimulation: In this procedure, electrodes are implanted near the spinal cord, producing a tingling sensation that suppresses pain.

Patients with distressing musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis can find relief with anesthetic or anti-inflammatory injections into painful joints and trigger points.

In addition, physical therapy and psychological counseling are often included in treatment plans. Counseling can help reverse some of the effects of pain, Perret says, like depression and a diminished sense of control – major issues for most chronic pain sufferers.

“This integrated approach to pain management enhances quality of life not only by decreasing pain but also by improving patients’ ability to participate in activities they enjoy,” Hata adds. “When pain is controlled, people suffer less, sleep better and have more vitality.”