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Pain Management: Describing Pain

Pain is experienced both as a direct sensory experience (as when we get hurt) and as a mental state caused by our bodies’ responses to pain (such as excessive sensitivity to pain or stress). While the causes of pain may be difficult to pinpoint, it is well understood that pain affects our lives in a variety of ways. The goal of medicine is to manage pain while allowing patients to maintain their independence and quality of life.


During your first visit to your doctor, he/she may ask you to write down any symptoms that you experience during the day. For example, if you have pain in your upper arm or hand, the doctor may ask you to keep track of the pain for a week or two before making a diagnosis. From your written description, the doctor can then determine if your symptoms are related to an actual condition or whether they are your imagination. If your first visit reveals that you in fact do have a condition, your doctor may ask you to go back for a second visit to make sure your condition is progressing as you would expect. He/she will also want to perform a physical examination, using instruments such as X-rays and CT scans.

Once the doctor has determined that you do, in fact, have a condition, the treatment plan will be devised to help you manage pain and to reduce pain symptoms. Medicine is broad and varied and medicine sometimes doesn’t work for everyone. Your first goal might be to try only those medicines that seem to work for you. As your condition improves, you can gradually move on to other forms of treatment and hope that things will improve..


Writing in a journal is a very effective way to document pain and progress as you try different medications and therapies. Your first visit may be all about pain management, and your next visit might be more about pain management combined with other treatments. You should keep a record of both visits, both written and spoken, using notes, photographs, or pain diaries which you keep in your purse, wallet, briefcase, or bedside drawer. Writing in your pain journal can also help your doctor to know how to best target your treatment.

It’s important that you maintain regular appointments with your doctor. When treating pain and chronic pain in general, your doctor needs to be informed about any previous outbreaks of pain and how long ago they occurred. This helps to ensure that your doctor will be able to target the right treatment if you have a relapse of pain or if your current treatment has failed. For example, if you were treated for back pain and your pain came back two months later, your doctor might target treatment options such as exercise and/or medication that might help reduce the likelihood of you having another episode of pain in the future.


Finally, you must do what it takes to be an active and involved patient in managing your pain and medications. If you feel like you are not being listened to by your doctor or by others in your care, take some time to learn to listen to your body and talk to your doctor about what you experience. Sometimes, when you are willing to be open and honest about what you are experiencing you will be given the opportunity to get additional pain relief from the medications your doctor is prescribing, or to learn new ways to manage pain in your daily life. You might even find that you are lucky enough to gain relief from your chronic pain without taking over the counter medications or getting surgery!

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