Describing Pain So Your Doctor Pinpoint a Diagnosis

How well you can talk to your doctor about arthritis pain will affect how capably it can be treated
January 4, 2021 Updated: January 4, 2021

Chronic pain caused by arthritis can be debilitating for many people. Discussing the pain with a doctor and putting symptoms into words can help you get better treatment for the specific pain you may be experiencing.

Many people find it hard to communicate with their doctor about how much pain they are feeling. Because of this, The Arthritis Foundation created a guide with suggestions for expressing pain and discomfort through words. It includes questions such as “What does the pain feel like?” or “How does the pain affect your life?” and specific details to share.

The foundation suggests being as specific as possible when describing what your pain feels like. This can help doctors pinpoint the exact problem. For example, if a dull or aching pain is expressed, they know it could be due to muscle strains or arthritis. A description of shooting, tingling, or burning might point to nerve pain as the cause. Stabbing or sharp joint pain could suggest injuries to a bone, muscle, or ligament, and throbbing could be a headache, abscess, or gout.

They suggest rating your pain on a scale from 1 to 10, with zero being pain-free and 10 being unimaginable. This can help a physician to determine the dosage and type of pain medication you may need.

“Some patients come in the door with an eight on the pain scale, and they’re functional. Other patients walk in with a three and they’re disabled,” said Dr. Thelma Wright, medical director of the Pain Management Center at the University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopedics Institute.

Keep a Pain Journal

By being more aware of your pain and learning how to communicate your symptoms, your physician will be better equipped to offer tailored treatment to your needs. Many specialists suggest keeping a pain journal and tracking when the pain is felt, and making notes if it is worse during certain times of the day.

Keeping notes of treatments that you have tried to ease pain can also be helpful for your physician. In your journal, note any pain management, including over-the-counter pain medicine, heat or ice, or rest that made a difference to your pain levels.

By keeping in contact with your doctors regularly and taking control of your treatments by tracking progress, you may be able to find the exact treatment for your chronic pain. Just be aware that it could take a while to find relief, but communicating your pain will help get you closer to a solution quicker.

Mat Lecompte is a freelance health and wellness journalist. This article was first published on Bel Marra Health.