To you, your pain is very personal and very real. Yet, it is common for many chronic pain sufferers to show no overt physical signs that might explain why they are experiencing pain. Due to the general misunderstanding of pain, you may feel frustrated to repeatedly explain your pain to family, friends and even your healthcare team. It’s important to remember, however, that your loved ones and your healthcare team want to better understand your situation and be part of your recovery. Improving the communication channels with your healthcare team may help them better understand your condition and facilitate better access to much needed care and resources.
How to describe pain
First, let’s talk about common descriptors and types of pain. Commonly, we describe pain as acute (less than 6 weeks), sub-acute (6 weeks to less than 3 months), chronic (over 6 months) or recurrent (comes and goes). Commonly, musculoskeletal (MSK) pain will flare up or return periodically. Seeking care early and having a comprehensive examination can help reduce the likelihood of recurrence.
Pain caused by trauma or inflammation is known as nociceptive pain, whereas pain that originates from a damaged nerve is referred to as neuropathic pain. Pain can also be referred, which means it is felt in one area of the body but actually originates from another. Referred pain should be differentiated from radicular pain that results from an irritation at the nerve root that radiates away from the source, for example down the leg. Other forms of pain may not be linked directly to injury but are related to either neuronal dysregulation (sensory hypersensitivity) or psychological factors (psychogenic).
Talking to your team
Before visiting a healthcare practitioner, such as a chiropractor, it may be helpful to review some key questions. Thinking about your answers in advance will help you recall your day-to-day experience and help your provider gain a better understanding of the situation to make an appropriate diagnosis and plan of management.
Where is your pain? (point to all applicable areas of the body)
When did you first notice the pain? Have you ever experienced similar pain in the past?
How would you describe your pain (dull, ache, stabbing, throbbing, burning, numbness, pins and needles, etc.)?
What activities/movements aggravate your pain? What activities/movements relieve your pain?
What have you tried for pain relief so far? What has worked? What has not?
Are you experiencing any other related symptoms?
In order to help you, your healthcare providers need to gather as much information as possible. Be honest and open. If you have concerns, don’t be shy about voicing them clearly and ask the office staff to schedule extra time as needed. The providers should welcome your openness and discuss solutions on how to better address these.
Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Write them down ahead of time to bring with you to your appointment(s). Understanding your pain or condition can help you manage it between visits. Your healthcare provider may be able to help you identify self-management strategies or lifestyle changes to help you manage pain. Also, depending on your needs, you may want to bring a friend or family member to important appointments to help you remember what is said and recommended.
To facilitate communication with your healthcare team, consider keeping a pain diary to record the type of pain felt, the location of the pain, the impact of the pain on your activities and any other related symptoms that may appear. Use your diary during your next visit to brief your provider on the progress of your symptoms, improvement or challenges. There are a number of easy to use templates available online.