When it comes to ‘invisible pain’ including conditions such as fibromyalgia, it’s common for sufferers to struggle with describing their pain to a doctor. It’s important that sufferers fully understand their own pain and know as much about it as possible before heading to speak to a doctor. This can help reduce and prevent repeat appointments and cases of misdiagnosis. Tracking when the pain occurs, identifying triggers and learning how to describe the feeling can lead to a faster diagnosis — here’s a guide to offer some advice to patients.
Step 1: determining the type of pain
Thinking generally, pain is an unpleasant sensation that is hard to ignore. It can be felt in a range of ways and be caused by a variety of factors. Because of the broad definition of pain, it’s important that you understand as much as possible about your own pain to help you describe it to others.
There are two main categories of pain, which are acute and chronic. Acute pain is short term and is often felt as a severe or sudden pain that eases with time. Opposite to this is chronic pain, which is persistent and can last for months — this is a recognised condition.
Another way to understand pain is to determine the source. Your pain typically falls under one of the following categories:
- Neuropathic pain (nerve-injury)
- Radicular pain (pain travels down the path of the nerve)
- Somatic pain (caused by stimulation of pain receptors on the surface of the body or in musculoskeletal tissues)
- Myofascial pain (a type of somatic pain, associated with muscle pain)
- Visceral pain (relating to the internal organs)
By following the next steps, you should be able to categorise your pain more accurately, better understand the cause, and find a treatment with the help of your GP.
Step 2: identifying associated triggers
You may be surprised to learn about the many triggers of pain, as your environment can cause pain without you even realising. Identifying triggers can help you avoid them in the future and learn how to deal with them. You might find that your pain is associated with the following:
- Anxiety and stress
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Temperature change
- Inflammatory food
Step 3: gauging pain intensity
Measuring your pain intensity allows you to recognise when it gets worse and the potential triggers of this. A basic pain level chart is usually a scale of 1 to 10 that ranges from no pain to moderate pain to the worst possible pain. You can find a detailed explanation of each stage of the scale here.
Step 4: Tracking your pain with an app or using other methods
The next step in understanding pain is to recognise when it’s happening, as this can help you monitor your triggers and determine if certain things make the pain better or worse.
What’s the best way to track your pain? Ultimately, it’s whatever works for you, There are apps out there, such as CatchMyPain which allows you to draw the location and intensity of your pain on a model, track happiness and fatigue along with other features. Or, you might decide to create your own diary in a notepad. For this idea, just remember to make note of:
- The date and time you feel the pain
- How long it lasted
- Location of the pain
- Intensity of pain
- Any potential triggers
- Any treatment you used
Step 5: is there any treatment that can be offered at home?
When you’ve determined the cause and triggers of your pain, you might find that there are some ways to relieve it at home. Of course, if a pain persists, it is always best to seek medical advice.
If it’s a painful injury that you’ve recently incurred, try the RICE method as soon as you can. This stands for rest, ice, compress and elevate and this technique works to keep swelling down.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. They work well to treat muscle pain and inflammation injuries such as sprains. Always read the instructions before administrating medication yourself though.
Medication that has few serious side effects include gels, creams and sprays that are available from supermarkets and the pharmacy. These work by relieving the pain orally and are often used to treat muscle, tendon and joint pain.
Step 6: Knowing what to say
Before you go to your doctor, it’s a good idea to prepare what you want to say. This way, you don’t forget to mention a specific symptom and reduce the risk of a misdiagnosis.
Show your doctor your pain tracker and have bullet points prepared that you can discuss — this could be triggers that you’ve identified and any treatments that you’ve tried at home. Your doctor may also want to know about any other medication or health supplements that you’re taking so it may be helpful to make a note of them to share with your doctor.
Getting to know your pain is the first step in treating it. Follow our 6-step guide and try to find the best treatment for you and your needs.
Lee Dover is a senior copywriter at Mediaworks with an interest in healthcare as well as researching into healthier ways of living. He has a BA (Hons) in Magazine Journalism.