PAIN MANAGEMENT Chronic problem millions of Americans will suffer all their lives

STORY AND PHOTO BY BOB DARDEN, Greenwood Commonwealth: Health & Fitness

Dr. Ahmed Abdel Aziz knows a lot about the causes of chronic physical pain and how to treat it. Aziz, 47, is the director of the Greenwood Pain Management Center.
“The statistics, according to the National Center for Health, show that chronic pain results in a loss of productivity of nearly $100 billion a year,” the physician said.
It is estimated that 76.2 million Americans suffer some sort of chronic pain.
“That’s more individuals than have diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined,” Aziz said. “That gives you a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Aziz said pain can sometimes be helpful, such as when a child touches a stove.
“Pain is important to prevent injury,” he said. “But when it becomes chronic, it doesn’t have a useful function.”
Chronic pain is typically defined as pain lasting for more than six months that results in a loss of productivity, he said.
“We treat chronic pain patients of various origins,” he said, “whether it’s related to disc problems, like neck and low back pain caused by herniated discs, diabetes neuropathies — patients who have long-standing diabetes and who have, for example, burning feet and hands. We treat cancer pains; we treat osteoarthritis pains and sickle cell anemia pains.”
Aziz and Dr. Todd Besselievre operate the Greenwood Pain Management Center, located at 1312 Strong Ave. The center has a staff of 10.
The center — the only pain center in the Delta —  draws patients from around the region, including places such as Tunica, Greenville and Lake Village, Ark.
Aziz has been with the center since June 2004. A native of Egypt, he received his degrees in anesthesiology and a pain management fellowship from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
Aziz said patients are referred to the center by their primary-care physicians and by specialists, such as neurosurgeons, before being considered as candidates for back and neck surgery.
The constant interaction between the primary-care physician and the center helps ensure that the pain management doesn’t interfere with a patient’s other medical treatments and medications, Aziz said.
Treatments include pain medication; physical therapy, which is referred to the hospital’s occupational rehabilitation clinic; and injections.
Aziz says some of his patients are short-term and others are long-term. That depends largely on the primary-care physician’s treatment plan.
“The majority continue to come for the rest of their lives simply because of the phobia of prescribing pain medication among primary-care physicians,” Aziz said.
Aziz says the majority of his patients suffer from neck and low back pain.
“Much of it is repetitive minor trauma, such as whiplash and from manual work,” he said.
Aziz says patients are typically seen every two weeks or monthly depending on the severity of their pain. Typically visits are more frequent in the beginning; then once the patient hits upon a regimen that works, the visits become less frequent.
New developments in pain management include a variety of surgical procedures, such as the implanting of a spinal cord stimulator, which interrupts the pain signals from the lower back.
The center can conduct a trial to see if the patient is a candidate for such a procedure, although many people in this area don’t want to take that risk, Aziz said.