7 Tips for Talking to Your Doctor About Pain
Be your own pain advocate. Here are seven tips for talking to your doctor about pain.

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Picture of patient talking to doctor 7 Tips for Talking to Your Doctor About Pain

If you have a chronic pain condition such as fibromyalgia or arthritis, becoming your own pain expert will let you make the most of the time you spend with your doctor. Here are seven tips to help you talk accurately and specifically about your pain. To be able to get the best diagnosis and treatment, spend some time before your appointment to plan how you will tell your doctor about your pain. It may be helpful to make a list of what you are going to say when you see your doctor.

  1. Choose your words to describe pain. Try to use specific words that will let your doctor know how the pain feels to you. Here are some examples:
    • Sharp
    • Stabbing
    • Tugging
    • Burning
    • Tender
    • Stiff
    • Dull
    • Deep pain
    • Achy
    • Pressure
  2. Rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain at all and 10 being the worst pain ever.
  3. Be ready to tell your doctor when the pain is at its worst. Is it:
    • In the morning when you wake up?
    • During the day after activity?
    • In the evening before you go to sleep?
    • At night, interfering with sleep?
  4. Describe any other symptoms that accompany your pain. For instance, do you have:
    • Flu-like symptoms, such as being tired and having an achy feeling all over the body?
    • Nodules on your hands or elsewhere?
    • Rashes?
  5. Describe where the pain is located. Be very specific. Keep track of pain by marking an "x" on a simple outline drawing of the body. Take the picture with you to the doctor as a visual reminder. When you talk to your doctor, point to a specific location or to more than one area on your body.
  6. Describe how your symptoms limit your daily activities. Here is a scale from 0 to 4, with a description of each number.
    0 - You have pain, but you are fully active. The pain does not limit your activity.
    1 - You can do light work or sedentary work (office work) but cannot do anything strenuous.
    2 - You can walk around and take care of yourself, but cannot do any work activities or strenuous activity.
    3 - Your pain is starting to limit your ability to take care of yourself. You need some help with even the most basic things like dressing, bathing, or cooking.
    4 - You are completely disabled. You need help to take care of your basic needs.
  7. Keep a pain log.
    Track your pain for a few days before seeing your doctor. In the pain log, keep track of items 1 through 6. Also, note what medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, you took to relieve the pain and whether they helped. Include any herbal preparations. Also note any complementary treatments, like a massage, a warm bath, or meditation. And note if these provided any relief.
By Louis Neipris, MD, Staff Writer
Created on 12/09/2008
Updated on 06/08/2011
  • American Pain Foundation. Spotlight on fibromyalgia - tip sheet.
  • American Pain Foundation. Target chronic pain notebook.
  • National Palliative Care Research Center. ECOG performance status.
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