Questions You Should Ask About Pain and Pain Treatment

Your role in treating your pain—an “invisible” condition.

Pain isn’t just a symptom; it’s also a condition—one that only you truly understand. But, that doesn’t mean your doctor can’t help you. If you take a closer look at your pain, describe it thoroughly, and ask some thoughtful questions, you can help your pain management team develop a results-oriented treatment plan for you.
Photo collage of men and women.More than 100 million Americans have chronic pain. Photo pain can make you feel isolated because you’re the one experiencing it, but you are not alone. In fact, more than 100 million Americans have chronic pain—and that’s only one type of pain among a vast number of causes!

About Pain Management and Your Role

Pain management is a subspecialty of medicine that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of pain. Pain medicine is sometimes viewed as being a multidisciplinary science meaning your pain management team may include different types of specialists—a physiatrist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, and/or psychiatrist. These specialists often work in union to coordinate care with your primary care physician, surgeon, oncologist, or other doctor.

In itself, pain is a medical condition. Your doctor can’t see your pain, although its cause may be apparent on an imaging study, such as a CT or MRI scan. However, you can help your doctor visualize your pain by providing detailed information about it.

Before your doctor’s appointment, think about how you can describe your pain. Make notes and include questions you’d like answered. Consider bringing a family member or trusted friend with you for support. The suggested questions below are provided to help you analyze and explain your pain.

About Your Pain—Today

  • Where is my pain located?
  • Does my pain stay in one place or radiate? (eg, sciatica)
  • Does anything specifically trigger my pain? (eg, sitting, walking)
  • Do I experience numbness, tingling, burning, stinging, or electric-like sensations?
  • Is my pain constant, or does it come and go?
  • How has pain impacted my quality of life? (eg, hurt relationships, lifestyle changes)

On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain imaginable, how do I rate my pain? (See Pain Scale below)
pain scale ranging from no pain to worst pain possibleOn a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain imaginable, how do I rate my pain? Photo Source:

History of Your Pain

  • What caused my pain in the first place?
  • Did my pain start suddenly or gradually?
  • How long have I been in pain?
  • What am I currently doing to manage my pain?
  • Is there anything I’m doing that’s reducing my pain?
  • What pain medications have I taken in the past, and how did they work for me?
  • Have I ever had an allergic reaction to pain medication? If so, what were the medications?

Concerns About Your Pain and Treatment

  • Do I have concerns about taking medications to help manage pain and other symptoms (eg, muscle spasms)?
  • Are there other treatments for the cause of my pain besides medications?
  • What other medical conditions do I have? (eg, diabetes, high blood pressure)
  • What are my goals for managing my pain?

Questions to Consider Asking Your Doctor

Bring your notes and questions with you to your appointment. Doing so can help you make the most of the time with your doctor, and ensure that you leave with information needed to understand your diagnosis and treatment options.

  • Do you know what’s causing my pain, or testing necessary to confirm your diagnosis?
  • Do I need to see a pain specialist, or do I need to expand my pain management team to other specialists?
  • Can my pain be cured, or should I readjust my expectations to managing my pain?
  • Does my pain have triggers I should avoid (such as certain foods or fragrances)?
  • What kinds of pain treatments may be an option for me?
  • What are the risks, benefits, and side effects of these treatments?
  • What treatment(s) do you recommend I pursue, and why?
  • What level of pain relief should I expect from your recommended course of treatment?
  • Are there any alternative therapies, such as massage or acupuncture, that I may explore?
  • Will lifestyle modifications, such as diet or exercise, help reduce my pain?

Next Steps

Beyond your first appointment with one or more members of your pain management team, consider keeping a daily pain journal. You can manually write down your observations by hand or on your tablet or computer. Your notes can serve to jog your memory when pain blurs your thoughts. It need not take much of your time, and may prove to benefit your mental outlook by providing a means to release frustrations and challenges associated with living with pain.

Updated on: 09/10/19
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Types of Chronic Pain
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Types of Chronic Pain

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