Talking to your doctor

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about pain

It's important to talk to your doctor about how your pain affects you, and what steps you've already taken to treat it. You and your doctor will work together to develop a plan that helps you manage your pain. If you don't have your own doctor who can help you manage your condition long term, find a doctor now.

Be open and honest

Knowing how chronic pain affects your life helps your doctor figure out the best course of treatment. Tell your doctor everything you can about your pain — even what may feel like embarrassing details.

For example, does it hurt more when you sit or stand? How about dressing yourself, driving, using the bathroom, bathing, or having sex? These sensitive yet important day-to-day issues can only be addressed if your doctor knows about them.

Talk about how you're feeling emotionally. Are you experiencing depression? Anger? Frustration? Fear? These are all normal reactions to chronic pain, and your doctor may be able to help you cope with these feelings along with your physical pain, or refer you to a therapist, support group, or other resources.

Words to describe chronic pain

When your body hurts, it can be difficult to find the right words to describe what you're feeling. Use some of these common pain words to help your doctor understand more about the source of your pain, its intensity (how strong the pain is), and how to help treat it:

  • aching
  • burning
  • cold
  • crushing
  • deep
  • dull
  • focused
  • nauseating
  • pinching
  • radiating
  • sharp
  • shooting
  • tender
  • throbbing
  • tight
  • tingling
  • warm

Keep a pain journal

Your pain may change from day to day — or even hour to hour.

Keep a pain journal to track your pain. Then share the information with your doctor at your next visit.

You may want to include answers to these questions:

  • Did anything trigger your pain?
  • Does your pain make you feel depressed, anxious, or angry?
  • Does your pain come and go, or is it constant?
  • Have you had this pain before? How was it treated? What treatments worked for you?
  • How long does your pain last?
  • How much does your pain interfere with work, family, and physical activity?
  • How severe is your pain on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain imaginable)?
  • What does your pain feel like? Use the list above to help describe your pain.
  • What makes your pain feel better?
  • What makes your pain feel worse?
  • When did your pain begin?
  • Where is your pain? It may help to draw a picture of where your body hurts.

Using a pain scale

A pain scale helps your doctor understand how bad your pain is each day.

Use a scale of 0 to 10 to rate your chronic pain. This is also called a "functional pain scale."

Pain scale (English) (PDF)
Pain scale (Spanish)  (PDF)

What to ask your doctor

Your doctor will ask you a lot of questions about your pain. But your appointment is also a great time to have your questions answered.

Some questions to start with may include:

  • Are there alternative treatments that could reduce the pain?
  • Are there surgery options that could help me?
  • How long will I need an assistive device, like a cane or brace?
  • How will this affect my lifestyle? What are my limitations?
  • Is there a cure for my type of pain?
  • What are the pros and cons of each treatment type?
  • What can I do for myself to help ease my pain?
  • What are the possible side effects of my medication? How should I take it for the best results?

Ask as many questions as it takes until you feel comfortable with the information. If you think of others after your appointment, you can always email your doctor.

Reviewed by: Andrew Bertagnolli, PhD, November, 2015

Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

©2015 Kaiser Permanente

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