Working Through the Pain

Dr. Eric Liu welcomes new partner, Dr. Mitchell Engle, to the Institute of Precision Pain Medicine. Together, the doctors plan to improve pain management in South Texas.

By: Kathleen Naderer
Photos by: DarkLab

South Texas has a reputation as an underserved pain community, meaning that many people struggling with acute or chronic pain don’t receive treatments necessary to improve their quality of life.

With few board-certified pain specialists in the area, most people must rely on their primary care physician to manage pain issues. While general practice doctors are highly qualified and equipped to treat straightforward cases, specialists are necessary for complex or long-term cases in order to streamline and optimize patient care.

This is why Dr. Eric Liu and Dr. Mitchell Engle, both double board-certified in anesthesiology and pain medicine, offer a better approach to pain management in Corpus Christi and the surrounding areas.

Their practice, the Institute of Precision Pain Medicine, addresses pain from a multidisciplinary stance, using every tool and technique at their disposal to identify the cause and optimize the reduction of pain. By recognizing pain as a complex process with both physical and emotional causes, Liu and Engle go beyond mere symptom management.

“Every other specialty in medicine does it,” Liu said. “If you have a heart problem, you see a cardiologist. A surgeon won’t remove the appendix from somebody who has a gallbladder problem. Similarly, pain specialists find the root of the pain in order to correctly treat it.”

People of all ages with a wide variety of pain problems are patients at the Institute of Precision Pain Medicine. From young people with sports injuries to elderly patients suffering from deteriorated joints and stenosis, Liu and Engle have seen it all during their years of practice.

Engle, a former assistant professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center and a member of the Texas Pain Foundation, also brings his vast experience and knowledge of pain management for cancer patients. Previously, these patients would have to travel to cities like Houston for this type of specialized care.

Liu and Engle take into account each patient’s individual needs before creating a custom plan that is ethical and evidence-based, using a variety of methods including prescription medications, surgical procedures, physical therapy, pain psychology, rehabilitation and more. Their facility even has access to clinical trials, as well as regenerative medicine techniques such as platelet rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapy, which increases treatment options for patients.

“No two patients have the same pain history or pain experience,” Engle explained. “Low-quality pain care will just use one method to treat a person. A comprehensive pain medicine center has to incorporate all of these methods and tailor them to the individual patient.”

“In this hectic business, you often hear patients complain that doctors just come in for five minutes and then leave,” Liu added. “So we spend extra time listening and explaining the diagnosis in layman’s terms they can understand.”

By taking the time to listen, educate and motivate patients, as well as individualize plans and use the full range of multidisciplinary treatments available, Liu and Engle are able to ensure that those who come to them in pain will find relief and, they hope, improvement.

Of course, this compassion and integrity places a strain on another precious resource: time. When Liu first opened the Institute of Precision Pain Medicine in July 2016, he knew South Texas would have a high demand for his specialty. “When I started, I knew I could be successful, but I didn’t realize how quickly!” he exclaimed. His practice experienced rapid success. By its first anniversary, patients had to book appointments two to three months in advance.

At the time, Liu was working on his own. Fortunately, his wife, Jigna Liu, helped him establish the business side of the practice. She set up credentials with hospitals, insurances and surgery centers; handled phone calls; hired essential staff members; created a billing department; and managed other crucial business infrastructure.

Liu’s work schedule extended from 8 a.m. to as late as 9 p.m. most days, despite her help. This exhausting schedule indicated a need for an additional specialist, so he immediately reached out to his good friend, Engle.

The two men met as interns in 2007 at University of Alabama at Birmingham, where they conducted their residencies for anesthesiology. They formed a close friendship during this time that lasted even as Liu stayed at UAB for a pain fellowship, while Engle left to finish his pain fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “We always knew our career paths would cross again,” Liu said.

With both of these doctors at the Institute of Precision Pain Medicine, their combined skillset promises not only a reduced waiting time for patients, but also an overall improvement in the quality of pain management in the Coastal Bend.

Three Ways to Help Reduce Pain:

1. Stay active: “It’s important that you still remain active, or you’ll lose function over time,” Engle explained. Daily activities, even for short periods of time, can improve overall health and wellness.

2. Lose the excuse: Liu recommends anyone struggling with time constraints, bad weather, a lack of exercise equipment or any other limitation look up free Chair Yoga exercises online. “You can always do more than you think you can.”

3. Stop smoking: Smoking not only negatively affects your lungs and heart, it can accelerate spinal deterioration, agitate arthritis and make you more sensitive to pain.

If you need help dealing with acute or chronic pain, visit www.ippmcc.com to learn more about treatment options or to schedule an appointment with Liu and Engle.