An estimated 116 million people in the United States live with chronic pain. The leading cause of disability worldwide is chronic back pain, with head or neck pain, arthritis, nerve damage and cancer pain following close behind. If you’re in pain, you’ll want to know how to talk to your doctor about chronic pain symptoms.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a pain scale—like a blood pressure monitor—doctors can use to diagnose pain. While talking to your healthcare provider about chronic pain can be difficult, it is a conversation worth having. Healthcare providers will not know the location, timing, or intensity of your pain, unless you tell them.
What to Discuss at Your Next Appointment
Being specific is important for diagnostic purposes. Doing everything in your power to explain your pain clearly and accurately gives you the best chances of being heard and treated appropriately. Create a list of the questions you want answered and review the list before your appointment. Revise to form the three top questions you want answered. You may want to practice asking the questions with another person to test their clarity. If possible, include words that reflect what you want identified above.
Be assertive, but don’t blame healthcare providers. They cannot feel your pain, so you need to communicate clearly and work together for a solution. If your questions are not answered, ask for a follow-up appointment or email to get the answers you seek. Referrals to other providers may be needed to help you think, feel, and do as well as possible despite ongoing pain.
Help your care provider help you by writing down the description, location, and intensity of your pain along with whether it has changed or changes over time. Bring those descriptions and how pain affects your daily activities along with the three most important questions you want to ask your medical provider to your appointment.
If possible, point to the pain. If your pain moves around, tell your doctor all areas that can be painful and the areas that hurt most often. Your doctor needs to determine if the pain is chronic; it comes on more slowly and sticks around for a long time before slowly fading away or lessening, or paroxysmal; it comes on suddenly and sporadically, then leaves just as suddenly.
What do You Want From Your Doctor?
Do you want analysis? Do you expect to have tests run to diagnose a cause? Talk about those. Have you doctor explain what the tools and tests are and why they would help.
Do you want information? Do you already know the cause and just want more information about your condition? Be up front with your doctor about your curiosity and questions.
What causes my chronic pain? Have your doctor explain why your condition causes your chronic pain. Understanding the condition can assist in anticipating triggers.
Does my daily diet, exercise, or sleep pattern help or worsen the pain? Observe your daily routine and take notes. Let your doctor know if any changes to your routine alter your chronic pain symptoms.
What are the pros and cons of available treatments? Since there are multiple medications and therapies you want to have a thorough discussion with your physician about what’s the best way for you to manage your chronic pain. What helps one patient won’t necessarily help you. Make sure you feel confident during and after your appointment you’ve discussed the best treatment options.
Do you want reassurance? Express to your doctor early on whether or not you’d like them to stay with you during your diagnostic and treatment journey. Also if you believe that doctor just isn’t working out if your physician will recommend you getting a secondary or tertiary opinion about the causes of your chronic pain and your treatment plan.