At some point in our lives, we’ve all been afflicted with pain. But while pain is one of the most common human experiences, it's also one of the most misunderstood – and hardest to diagnose.
One reason for this is that pain is subjective, and can be difficult to describe. For all of our doctors’ compassion and understanding of the body’s inner-workings, it’s not always possible for them to grasp what your unique, individual pain feels like.
We’ve put together some important tips and talking points that will help your doctor “feel your pain,” so you can begin your journey of healing.
Pain: The Big Question
When you first meet with your doctor, he or she will likely have lots of questions about the location, severity, and nature of your pain. Because pain can take so many forms and have so many causes, doctors must investigate an array of factors to pinpoint the problem.
Before your appointment, be a detective about your pain. Think about and have clear, detailed answers ready for the following questions:
1. Where is the pain?
Telling your doctor you have “stomach pain” or “back pain” is a start, but the precise details are where your pain story begins to take focus. Be as specific as possible. As an example, pain in your lower-right abdomen may have a completely different set of causes than upper-right abdominal pain. If the pain in your elbow radiates down your arm when you extend it, mention that important detail.
Another question to ask yourself is whether the pain is confined to one very specific location, or if it moves around. This, too, will help your doctor pin down potential causes.
2. When does the pain occur?
Is the pain at its worst when you wake up in the morning, or at night before bed? Perhaps it hurts when you flex a joint or bend over? What happens during exercise or exertion? Sometimes even sitting for long periods of time can exacerbate certain types of pain. Make mental note of the times of day when your pain flares up.
3. How long have you had the pain?
Try as best as you can to remember when the problem started and how long it’s been going on. If it helps, think about big events or milestones in your life – were you experiencing the pain at your niece’s wedding, or on your last big vacation?
4. What does the pain feel like?
Saying “it just hurts” may not be enough to give your doctor a clear picture of your pain. Help shape your doctor’s understanding by describing the pain in clear terms, such as: sharp and stabbing, burning, shooting or dull and aching.
5. How severe is the pain?
When asked to assess the severity of our pain, we can all be tempted to go to extremes to drive home our suffering. You may be asked to place your pain on a scale of 1–10, with 10 being the worst pain you can imagine. It’ll benefit you to be realistic about your pain, trying your best to keep perspective.
On the scale, one is considered mild pain that can be easily ignored, while two–four might be moderate, nagging pain that interrupts some activities. Above five or six, pain is considered severe or even unbearable, interfering with concentration and basic needs. Those suffering from level 10 pain would probably not be able to make it to their doctor’s office and hold a conversation, the pain would be so excruciating.
With these rough definitions in mind, think hard about where you think your pain falls in the grand scheme of things.
6. How does the pain interfere with my day-to-day life and wellbeing?
This question can be a challenge to answer, especially if you haven’t been taking notes throughout your pain journey (more on that below). Think of specific, real-world examples; is there something you could do before the pain that you now cannot? If you used to be able to run five miles, mow the lawn or pick up your grandchild without feeling pain, your doctor will begin to get a sense of how your life has been affected.
Even if your doctor doesn’t ask these exact questions, feel free to offer up the information. Remember, no one knows your pain better than you do.
Keep a Pain Journal
As you think about the questions above, it may help you to keep track of your pain by jotting down notes throughout the day. For instance, noting that pain was triggered by a certain type of physical activity – or by no physical activity at all – could give your doctor an important clue.
Many people tend to get nervous in a medical setting. It’s perfectly normal to forget questions, feel rushed, become intimidated while speaking to your doctor, or downplay your symptoms out of a desire to get the exam over with quicker. We’ve all been there.
The best way to confidently approach the conversation with your doctor is to know the answers to the above questions beforehand. Write them down if you need, so that you can refer back to them if you start to feel overwhelmed.
Be Your Own Advocate
After your initial consultation, don’t be afraid to express concerns if you feel you aren’t being listened to, or that your pain isn’t being taken seriously enough.
A doctor may think he or she has responded to all of your concerns and given a satisfactory answer; if you feel differently, speak up! Whenever they can, doctors would rather take a few extra minutes and leave the exam room knowing they have a happy patient.
Persistence Through the Pain
It isn’t always possible to make your pain go away overnight. Sometimes, you may need to be persistent in communicating with your doctor about your treatment plan – whether it’s working, any side effects or if you aren’t satisfied with the level of relief you are receiving.
Our Florida Hospital physicians are ready to listen to you about your pain. Call 407-303-DOCS or fill out the form on the right side of this page to be connected to a Florida Hospital physician.