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How to Talk to a Doctor Effectively About Your Pain

How to Talk to a Doctor Effectively About Your Pain

We often hear the phrase “Communication is key”, but we seldom abide by this tip. Mostly because it is hard for us to put our pain into words. When you are suffering from some type of pain and you visit a doctor for it, you are often asked to describe what you are feeling and no matter how hard you try to explain it, you miss some important details, which are revealed much later by the doctor treating you. Sometimes because of this miscommunication, it takes a lot of time for you to get proper treatment for your pain. In this article, we’ll shed some light on how you can talk to a doctor about your pain in a more effective manner so you can get treated quickly and with ease. 

Talking To Your Doctor About Pain

When you visit a doctor’s office with a pain complaint, you are asked to rate the pain from 1-10. We tend to downplay the pain due to which the doctor doesn’t take it that seriously and recommends an over-the-counter pain medication. There have been many reported cases in which patients suffering from excruciating pain were reluctant about labeling their pain with a number. 

There has been a case in which a patient named Adam Rosette, was admitted for fibrous dysplasia, it is a bone disorder that made it impossible for him to do the most basic things like chewing or even speaking. He had brain surgery to remove some benign tumors caused by the disorder. After the surgery, he was in a lot of pain but was very hesitant when it came down to sharing what he was feeling. He rated the pain around 7 although he was experiencing it on a much worse level. 

The pain scale tends to be quite ineffective in these situations. Doctors tend to consider the pain between 4-7 moderate. You might be in a world of pain but the number you labeled your pain with, downplays it. 

Effective Ways To Communicate With Your Doctor

There are a couple of factors that play a role in what effective doctor-patient communication looks like. The listening skills of the doctor, the doctor-patient relationship, the words used to describe the pain and suffering, and talking about pain management are all important factors of effective communication. Here are some things you can do when you talk to a doctor, to make the doctor understand your level of pain more effectively:

Make Pre Visit Notes

After you have booked an appointment with your physician, write down some notes to explain your condition properly. Mention the symptoms that you are experiencing besides the pain. Take note of when the pain gets worse and note it down. If possible answer all of the following questions so you yourself understand your pain better: 

  • Where does it hurt?
  • What makes the pain better?
  • What makes the pain worse?
  • When does it hurt?
  • How does the pain hinder your ability to do everyday activities?
  • What does it feel like?

You can note down questions about your treatment plan as well like

  • What does pain management do?
  • What kind of pain medications would be suitable for you?

Having an overview of things yourself, will enable you to explain the pain in a much better way to your physician

Be Descriptive But Precise

A doctor who listens to the patient is everything. Share your pain. Share the entire story about how it started and on what occasions you have felt it. Be descriptive but don’t get lost in the details. Be focused on the pain itself and the underlying things you think might be causing them. It is at times difficult to find the words suitable to describe your pain. Learn different words that can help you describe the pain in a better way. These are some words you can use to describe the pain and suffering:

  • Achy
  • Strapping and piercing
  • Excruciating
  • Burning 
  • Hot
  • Heavy 
  • Tiring
  • Unbearably distressing
  • Cramping
  • Throbbing
  • Sharp
  • Dull
  • Radiating
  • Shooting
  • Sore
  • Stabbing
  • Pinching
  • Splitting
  • Tender

Using a precise word for it can help you communicate your pain when you talk to a doctor, in a better way. 

Don’t Just Explain Your Feeling But Also Speak About The Function

When a doctor is talking to a patient, he expects to get complete information, including how the pain affects your everyday life. After you have explained the kind of pain you suffer from, share how the pain has stopped you from doing some daily activities. Share an incident where you were doing something and because of the pain, you had to stop and divert that task to someone else. 

By sharing how you have limited functionality because of the pain would make the doctor suggest you a much more elaborate pain management program. 

Share Your History

Medical history can help doctors figure out a lot of things. There are some underlying diseases that cause chronic pain. Like fibromyalgia is a disease that is caused by genetics or emotional or physical abuse. The disease causes chronic pain all over the body. Sharing your past medical and other forms of history is important to diagnose a disease like this. When you talk to a doctor, it is important that they know where exactly your pain started. It helps the doctor understand your pain more and helps him/her come up with an effective treatment plan.

Bring a Friend or Family Member Along

Sometimes the doctors are a little skeptical about how they should treat your pain. If you have a high pain tolerance and don’t look as much in pain as you actually are can make your doctor doubt your condition. It is always good to bring someone along who can vouch for your pain, be it a family member or a friend. 

Sometimes the doctors use your facial expressions as an indicator for how much pain you actually are experiencing and if you are someone who doesn’t wear his/her pain on your face can sidetrack the doctor a bit. Your friend or family member can help back you up. Make sure you bring along a person who is already familiar with your pain and how it affects your everyday life. 

Explain What Numbers on the Pain Scale Mean For You

You may be familiar with the pain scale. Whenever you have talked to a doctor, he/she might have asked you to rate your pain on a scale of 0-10. 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain. But this scale is quite misleading according to some doctors and nurses as well. For example, your 6 can mean sudden pain cramps for which you need medication but for the doctor, it can mean moderate pain that’ll go away itself. 

When you talk to a doctor, explain what each number on the scale means to you. Your 6 can be very different from the doctor’s 6 so use your words to describe that level 6 pain. 

Living With Untreated Pain? Let Us Help

We understand how hard it can be if you are suffering from an excruciating pain that affects your everyday life and you can’t talk to a doctor about it because you think you won’t be able to communicate it in a proper manner. Our board-certified physicians believe in treating the patient with empathy and understanding. They won’t just offer a listening ear, they will make you feel comfortable so you can share your pain with them in an effective manner. They would then devise a pain management plan for you, so they can treat your pain allowing you to get back to your everyday life activities.

– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by Dr. Syra Hanif, M.D. on 10/04/2021

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  • About The Author

    Dr. Syra Hanif M.D.

    Board Certified Primary Care Physician

Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

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