How to Talk to Your Doctor About Pain

How to Talk to Your Doctor About Pain – Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic – June 2020

This article contains an excellent list of many descriptive words to help us describe very specific aspects of our pain.

There are many causes and types of pain, and everyone experiences it differently. Effective communication with your doctor is a key piece of the pain management puzzle.

“While most people think pain is all the same, there are actually several different types of pain,” explains pain management specialist Robert Bolash, MD.  

It seems most scientists, researchers, and even doctors assume that chronic pain is some generic entity, and that’s a ridiculous assumption. 

Unfortunately, because pain cannot be externally measured or verified, research doesn’t delve into the particulars of our pain experience.

In most scientific research, chronic pain is evaluated and measured as though all pain were the same, had the same effect in and on the body, and resulted in the same sensation.

Only pain “amount” is ever measured.

But this is just an expedient generalization to make their studies “work” and doesn’t reflect reality. With such a faulty premise, it’s no wonder studies show such inconsistencies when you’re comparing different types of pain, with different causes, locations, and sensations.

For example, neuropathic pain and nociceptive pain come from two very different biological processes and express themselves with different sensations.

Here’s how you can have more productive conversations about pain with your doctor.

Why pain is hard to diagnose

Chronic pain — which lasts for weeks, months or years — often does not have an apparent purpose.

It can hang around after an injury or surgery, or arise from a medical condition like arthritis or fibromyalgia. Over time, it can also result in changes to your nervous system that affect how you perceive pain.

“Rather, chronic pain is often associated with a number of complex interactions that play different roles in the creation of pain signals from a site of injury to the brain.”

Help your doctor help you

If you’re seeing a pain specialist for the first time, here’s what to bring to your appointment:

  • A list of medical diagnoses, recent surgeries or procedures.
  • An up-to-date list of medications you’re taking. “We specifically want to know how you’re actually taking the medicine, even if it’s slightly different from what’s written on the bottle,”
  • A list of treatments you’ve tried and why you stopped them. Perhaps there was a side effect, or they simply didn’t work.

How to describe your pain

It can be challenging for doctors to gauge the level of pain people feel and whether treatments are effective.

your doctor will also rely heavily on your responses to questions about your pain, including:

  • Where does it hurt?
  • When does it hurt?
  • What makes it feel better or worse?
  • How does your pain affect your daily functioning?
  • What does it feel like?

This last point — describing what your pain feels like — doesn’t come naturally to most people

Here are some words that might help:

More pointers for your pain appointment

  • Come with questions.
  • Bring a second set of ears.
  • Keep a pain journal*. Your doctor will want to know how much your pain is limiting your life. Before your appointment, make note of how your pain affects your mood and your ability to walk, sleep and enjoy activities.
  • Be open to solutions.

*A detailed pain journal is the best way to communicate with your doctors about your chronic pain and how it’s affecting your functionality and life. See How to get EDS Diagnosis, Pain Treatment, SDDI.

There could be factors contributing to your pain that you might not typically think about. For example, certain aspects of brain health such as managing mood or stress are known to diminish the intensity of pain.

Other thoughts?

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