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How to Describe Your Pain to your doctor?

Updated: Jun 11, 2022

patient pointing to her location of pain to a provider

Everybody feels pain. It is a response from your nervous system, letting you know that something is wrong with your body. But not all the pains are the same and they do not feel the same, either. There are no labs that can tell how much pain your body has because it is subjective. Knowing how to describe your pain and all the factors associated with it will give your doctor a better idea of what might be happening with you.

Types of pain

There are three general types of pain: nociceptive, neuropathic, and psychogenic pain.

Nociceptive pain occurs when you have tissue damage. For example, when you cut your skin, have a bone fracture, a burn, or a tumor. Anything that causes damage to your tissue has the potential to cause pain.

Neuropathic pain happens when there is damage to the nervous system. Some diseases or conditions can cause this type of damage, for example, diabetes, shingles, and alcoholism.

Psychogenic pain presents in association with psychological factors. It can come along with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Duration of pain

Another important thing is to know for how long you are having a specific pain. A pain that lasts less than 6 months is acute, while longer than that will be chronic pain. The importance here is that acute pain goes away when the condition gets healed or is treated. However, chronic pain is hard to diagnose and treat since it is not always present and the cause might not be obvious.

How to describe your pain?

It is difficult to describe something invisible. Something that only you feel and suffer. However, there is specific information that can be of great help to your doctor about your pain. The more information you can provide, the better.

1. Show the location of your pain. Be specific, for example, if you have abdominal pain, tell your doctor if it is specifically on your left or right side, and if it is from the middle up or down. Maybe your pain is in the whole abdomen, then that is what you are going to show.

2. Tell your provider when your pain started. Some pains appear suddenly, others progress after a particular event, like an accident, repetitive activities, or maybe during the time you have been suffering anxiety. Try to be the most accurate that you can. Some treatments depend on the time the symptoms started.

3. Describe how does it feel like. Specific words can help in your diagnosis, for example, sharp, burning, dull, stabbing, shooting, crushing, throbbing, pounding, cramping, twisting, stretching, tingling, tiring, exhausting, twisting, pins and needles, electric shock, cold, or hot, among others.

4. Identify if the pain stays in the same place or if it moves to another part of the body.

5. Talk about if the pain is constant, or intermittent, and how frequently it comes and goes.

6. Be able to rate your pain on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is no pain and 10 is when it hurts the most. As an alternative, you can tell if your pain is mild, moderate, or severe.

7. Mention what triggers the pain and when. For example, standing for prolonged periods, touching the area, eating something in particular, doing a specific movement or activity, or remembering a stressful event. It is also helpful to mention if it happens during the morning or the night.

8. List the things that relieve your pain. It can be medications, therapy, staying in certain positions, avoiding a specific activity or movement, avoiding being touched, or avoiding certain foods.

9. Don’t forget any other symptoms that you have noticed that are happening with your pain, even when you think they are not related, like weight loss, vision changes, hair loss, or mental health symptoms. Sometimes, these are the key to making the correct diagnosis.

It can frustrate having to answer so many questions to your doctor. But the more information you provide, the better the picture and, therefore, the better your plan of care. Remember that pain can indicate something that can be fixed quickly, but in other instances, it might be an indication of malignancy. So, don’t be shy when talking about your pain.

And as always, stay healthy and come back for the next topic.



This Site cannot and does not contain physician advice. The physician information is provided for general and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of physician advice. THE USE OR RELIANCE OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS SITE OR THE MOBILE APPLICATION IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.

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