It is typical for doctors to ask patients to rate their pain using a pain scale. These scales may be numbered 0 to 10 or use a range of emoji’s to describe the level of pain a person is feeling. Although pain is an individual experience, pain scales are used in almost every clinical setting: from the doctor’s office to the recovery room.

Effectively communicating your pain to a physician, such as a pain management specialist, can help to ensure that the right treatments are used. Read Pain Management Specialists’ Role in Patient Care

Pain scales often help guide treatment. However, critics say this ‘treat by numbers’ philosophy can lead to both over-treating and under-treating pain. To ensure you’re getting the appropriate treatment, you and your doctor may want to seek alternatives for assessing chronic pain.

Below are 3 ways to talk to your doctor about pain.


1. Get Creative

Doctor’s offices and hospitals may be sterile and uninspiring but that doesn’t mean you can’t tap into your creative side to explain pain.

Descriptive words can often offer more help to a doctor because certain conditions or injuries have a very specific feeling, such as neuropathic pain that can signal nerve damage. Words that can help you describe your pain include:

  • Aching
  • Burning
  • Cramping
  • Splitting
  • Shooting
  • Stabbing
  • Throbbing

Understanding Nociceptive and Neuropathic Pain

In addition to using more specific words, a doctor may ask you to compare your pain to something like kidney stones or childbirth, both widely accepted as painful experiences.

In other cases, you may be asked to compare your pain to the worst you’ve ever felt. Metaphors and stories aid a doctor by putting your pain in context.

2. Talk About Daily Activities

Another thing you can do to help explain pain more effectively is to think of it in terms of your daily life. Answer these questions for your doctor:

  • Has the pain affected your job?
  • Is it difficult to get out of bed in the morning?
  • Have you stopped physical activity because of the pain?
  • Do you get fatigued easily?
  • Does the pain consume your day?

Although these are just a handful of questions, the idea is to think of pain in a big picture view. This will also give the doctor an understanding of your lifestyle, which is typically helpful in developing the right treatment plan.

3. Share Your Treatment and Medical History

It may seem obvious, but sharing your treatment and medical history with your doctor is an important part of discussing pain.

Medical records can only share so much detail, so it’s a good idea to come to an appointment—especially with a new doctor—prepared to share an account of your medical history. Include any relevant treatments, prescription, vitamins, and supplements.

A doctor may ask you some of these questions in order to better understand your pain experience and history:

  • How long have you had the pain?
  • What triggers the pain?
  • Is the pain constant, or does it come and go?
  • What activities make pain worse?
  • How often does the pain occur, and how long does it last?

The answers will help provide your doctor with a thorough timeline and history.

Because medical appointments are often overwhelming, it is suggested that people keep a journal to track how they feel each day. This will help identify any pain patterns or triggers, as well as make sure your appointments go as smoothly as possible.

Learn more:

Choosing and Meeting with a Pain Management Specialist

Acute vs. Chronic Pain