Pain Clinic at UChicago Medicine offers personalized, advanced interventions to help relieve chronic pain

Photo of man grasping elbow with red illustration of pain radiating out of it

Chronic pain impacts every area of a person’s life. Millions of individuals worldwide experience pain that interferes with their careers, sleep, mental health and overall well-being.

Recognizing the complex nature of chronic pain, the University of Chicago Medicine has established a Pain Clinic at UChicago Medicine dedicated to providing comprehensive, personalized care. A team of board-certified anesthesiologists specializing in pain management helps patients address a wide range of conditions – including chronic back pain, cancer pain, headaches, neuropathic pain or post-surgical pain — to find the best treatments and coping strategies.

With newer locations in River East downtown and Orland Park in the suburbs to expand capacity beyond the original Hyde Park location, these comprehensive outpatient pain medicine services provide convenient access for patients across the Chicagoland area. An additional UChicago Medicine location will be opening in Crown Point, Indiana, later in 2024.

“A great thing about the pain clinic is that once you see one provider, you’re plugged into all of the different resources we have,” said Joshua Pan, MD, a UChicago Medicine pain management expert who sees patients at multiple Pain Clinic locations.

One of the distinguishing features of the Pain Clinic at UChicago Medicine is the focus on interventional pain management techniques such as nerve blocks, steroid injections and radiofrequency ablation. Unlike traditional pain management approaches that rely heavily on medication, interventional procedures target the source of pain directly, providing more targeted and sustainable relief with fewer side effects.

Helping people return to the activities they enjoy: Pamela Thomas’ story 

Pamela Thomas started experiencing debilitating wrist pain after a motorcycle accident, but has since recovered after receiving interventional treatment at the UChicago Medicine Pain Clinic.

One patient who benefited from interventional pain management is Pamela Thomas. A few months after a motorcycle accident, Thomas began experiencing severe pain in her left wrist that radiated down to her fingers and back up to her shoulders.

“It got to the point where I almost couldn’t use my hand sometimes,” Thomas said. The pain was often worse at night, so she had trouble sleeping. Even during the day, it interfered with her job and with ordinary tasks. Pain relief medications simply weren’t enough to help her cope.

X-rays and other tests revealed that her wrist was physically intact – no sprain, no carpal tunnel, no broken bones or fluid. She was referred to the Pain Clinic at UChicago Medicine, where she met with Pan and his team.

“We discuss options with patients based on their daily habits and personal preferences,” Pan said.

Along with continuing physical therapy, one of the options Pan and his team offered Thomas was a temporary peripheral nerve stimulator: a device that sends gentle electrical pulses through very thin implanted leads to disrupt nerve pain signals.

“The doctors suggested I needed to reboot my nerves so the nerves would realize the pain in my hand wasn't related to a real injury like a sprain,” Thomas said. “Once they explained how the stimulation therapy worked, I decided to give it a try.”

Pan and his team used an ultrasound to guide the placement of the stimulation needle – an outpatient procedure that Thomas said hurt “no more than a bad bee sting.” For the next 60 days, she remained connected to the device that generated the electrical stimulation. The team showed her how to adjust the strength of the stimulation and readjust the equipment for bathing and other situations.

“I give a lot of credit to Dr. Pan, his team and the company that provided the nerve stimulation technology,” Thomas said. “They were very thorough, informative and supportive throughout the entire process, and they provided any resources I needed. I really appreciated that.”

After completing her 60-day treatment, Thomas said her pain on a scale from one to 10 is down to a three – relief that has persisted for over a year. Before visiting the pain clinic, she said her pain was at a 10 or above.

“At one point, I thought my hand would have to be removed or something because it was hurting so much,” she said. “Now, I can do my job, open a jar of peanut butter and even go back to riding my motorcycle.”

Continuing to advance pain management

The success of cases like Thomas' underscores the importance of combining advanced medical techniques with compassionate care and patient education. As the Pain Clinic at UChicago Medicine continues to expand and invest in technology advancements, the pain management experts also prioritize patient education and self-management strategies to enhance long-term outcomes.

Patients receive guidance on pain coping skills, activity modification, relaxation techniques and stress management to help them better manage symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Moreover, the Pain Clinic team collaborates closely with other specialty departments within UChicago Medicine, such as physical therapy, psychiatry and integrative medicine, to provide holistic care that addresses the physical, emotional and psychological aspects of pain. Patients are empowered to work with their expert providers to get relief and get their lives back.