Cloquet's new doctor, Paul Vollmar, aims to help end chronic pain
Carlton County residents with chronic pain have something to feel better about now that Paul Vollmar, M.D., has come to Cloquet. "If you've had pain for six months or more, you need to come see me," he said from his office at Community Memorial H...
Carlton County residents with chronic pain have something to feel better about now that Paul Vollmar, M.D., has come to Cloquet.
"If you've had pain for six months or more, you need to come see me," he said from his office at Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet this week.
Vollmar, an anesthesiologist, began working at CMH in August and has started the community's first Pain Management Clinic at the hospital.
Although the specialty is new to Cloquet, chronic pain management is a "gigantic" field of medicine, according to Vollmar.
"It's tougher sometimes to get specialty doctors into the rural areas," he said, "but it's not such a stretch for me."
Vollmar grew up in a small town near Mankato, Minn., where the town's doctor made an impression on him.
"I just thought he was a big deal," he said. "I thought I could do something like that."
After earning degrees in marketing and aviation, as well as a master's in business administration, he did just that - earning his medical degree at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis.
While in medical school, Vollmar started on the surgery track, but found he preferred anesthesiology.
"I also fell in love with the procedural side of things and now I can do both," he said of performing pain procedures as well as anesthesiology.
After medical school, Vollmar did a surgical residency at the University of Minnesota and then worked as an emergency medicine resident at the University of Mississippi hospitals. At the University of Nebraska, Vollmar was an anesthesia resident and in 2008 he completed a year-long fellowship there in pain management.
There he honed his skills in pain management procedures such as steroid injections, nerve blocks, trigger point injections, radio frequency ablation and implantable spinal cord stimulators.
"We can offer things that a regular doctor doesn't and bring a lot of treatment options to the table," he explained. "We also try to keep people off long-term narcotics."
The new Pain Management Clinic offers patients relief from all types of pain, including chronic headaches and back pain - which is the number one reason people visit doctors like Vollmar. About 90 percent of his patients complain of chronic back pain. Back pain alone accounts for over 13 million physician visits per year in the U.S., Vollmar said.
"In back pain, one surgery can lead to another, and there's a high failure rate," he said. "I may not be able to fix a person who's had back pain for 20 years, but maybe I can keep [him/her] from having another surgery."
Although back pain patients make up the majority of Vollmar's patient base, he also works with people who suffer from nerve pain, pain resulting from a terminal illness, pain due to cancer and fibromyalgia, among other conditions.
The good news is Vollmar can usually help alleviate some of the pain, no matter what type it may be.
"I'd say almost 99 percent of individuals with chronic pain will be able to get some type of pain relief through treatments," he said. "I can't fix everyone - but I'm pretty sure I help everyone."
Since August, Vollmar has seen more than 100 patients for pain at his office in Cloquet and at twice-per-month visits to Moose Lake. He's performed well over 100 pain procedures at the hospital and clinic and is thorough when it comes to assessing a person's pain.
"I do a physical exam on everyone," he said. "You don't need a referral so I start at the beginning."
After that, Vollmar will likely order scans, either MRIs or Cat scans, and correlate his physical findings with the imaging to formulate a pain plan.
A typical plan might include a combination of medication, physical therapy and injections. The goals also vary. For some, the goal is pain eradication, for others, it's pain reduction.
Some of his patients have ideas of what will help as well. Vollmar listens and takes patient input seriously. On occasion, however, he's had to turn patients away because they didn't like his prescriptions.
"We see about two people per month who say they 'need' narcotics," he said. "The nurses all know them, however, and we don't just give prescriptions to people."
Narcotic pain medications, such as Lortabs, Percoset and Vicodin, are horribly addictive, Vollmar said.
"Used correctly, narcotics are wonderful," he said. "But used incorrectly, patients will build up a tolerance and need stronger doses and at some point the side effects will outweigh the benefits."
He added that anyone taking narcotics is technically "under the influence," and they don't think clearly.
"With long-term use, you get sleepy, constipated and eventually you will become hyper-sensitive to pain, making any normal type of pain feel unbearable," he said. "That's why it's so important to have other methods of pain relief available."
Vollmar will see anyone with chronic pain, which is pain that continues for months with little to no relief.
"If you rake your leaves in the fall and feel back pain afterward, that could be normal," he said. "If it doesn't go away in four to six weeks, however, it might mean you should come in."
Vollmar said as he gets older, he's no longer a stranger to lower back pain, which helps him sympathize with his patients.
"It's part of getting older," he said. "And with the local farming and logging industries, you're going to have arthritis and chronic pain. I've taken my share of ibuprofen."
The Pain Management Clinic is located on the first floor of Community Memorial Hospital. Individuals do not need a referral for an appointment. Contact his office at 878-7677.
"My practice is still spooling up," he said. "But I've already had patients tell me they haven't felt this good in 20 years. And that's incredibly rewarding."