General practitioners (GPs) are very well trained in exploring physical and emotional aspects of medical problems. They usually know how to treat pain-related problems pain and should:
- understand what your symptoms mean
- know whether your symptoms are caused by ‘new’ pain or a flare-up of long-term pain
- react when needed, for example by ordering tests.
GPs are often good listeners, so they should usually be able to help you with problem solving.
Sometimes the problem can’t be fixed, but simply talking can be helpful. You can then work together to draw up a plan, which is important with long-term conditions. Living well despite pain is a skill which takes time to master.
Your GP will be crucial to how you deal with long-term pain, so it’s important that you try to build a relationship where you can:
- speak openly
- be listened to
- ask questions
- trust the advice you’re given.
A study showed that patients had a better experience when they were spoken to in a positive way, so you may want to consider gently challenging the information your doctor gives you if you find it alarming or confusing. Ask them to make the information clearer if you’re worried or unsure.
What should I expect from my GP?
Long-term conditions can become unstable and need close monitoring. Getting a GP appointment at short notice isn’t always possible, so you may want to discuss how to get an appointment quickly so you don’t have to use out-of-hours services or unplanned care centres.
Managing long-term pain can be easier when the focus is on things that help. GPs can help sort out the different tools that work best for you.
Your GP should be able to use a short time effectively and pick out important issues if you have a few things to discuss. They won’t know everything, but they’ll know where to find answers.
What types of treatment can my GP prescribe?
GPs often prescribe:
Occasionally they can prescribe medicines that aren’t traditionally used to treat pain. For example anti-seizure medication which was originally developed to treat epilepsy can help neuropathic pain.
Anti-depressants are also commonly used to treat long-term pain, whether you have depression or not.
Who can GPs refer me to?
GPs can coordinate your care and are good at knowing where to refer you to if you need other treatments or services, for example:
- exercise to maintain fitness and general health
- occupational therapy to help with daily living and functionality
- psychology to help optimise coping strategies and living well
- physiotherapy for specific musculoskeletal problems
- other doctors for second opinions.
Your GP may have known you for a long time, so they may be able to give other doctors important information, which can help them and stop them ‘pre-judging’ your situation before seeing you.