Communicating effectively about pain can be difficult. The good news is that when patients ask questions and express concerns, clinicians can develop a clearer understanding of the patient’s life and are therefore better able to provide tailored interventions.
When patients experience difficulty explaining their pain symptoms, it comes as no surprise that clinicians may develop an inaccurate understanding of their patient's situation. This can then lead to an unsupportive relationship between clinician and patient, and can even impact pain management.
When patients and clinicians have an open dialogue about pain, clinicians are better equipped to personalize care and tailor interventions based on the patient’s needs. Communication between clinician and patient can help increase satisfaction and improve the effectiveness of treatment.
Your pain and experiences are real and valid. Here are some strategies you can try before your next appointment to help you better communicate about pain:
1. Write it down!
Have you ever experienced a time when you get to the end of your appointment and the question you have been meaning to ask your clinician completely slips your mind?
As you prepare for your next appointment, write down every question or concern you want to share with your clinician. Nothing is too large or too small. Use a notebook or your phone to keep all your questions in one place.
Before arriving to your appointment, review your list and prioritize the most important questions you want to ask. This will ensure that you and your clinician make the best use of your time together.
2. Monitor your pain using a diary
The more descriptive information you provide with your clinician, the better they can help you. The 5 L’s below can help you properly describe your pain in your diary and with your clinician.
How did the pain impact your daily functioning? Did it impact your ability to focus? Your mood? Your relationships with others?
What was the pain intensity at its worst and least? You can use a scale from 0 to 10, but be sure to give some context as to what that number means to you. What you describe as a 5 may be very different than what your clinician understands to be a 5.
Think about the worst pain you have ever felt. How would you compare your current pain to that?
Sometimes pain just feels like pain. Other times you may experience different qualities to your pain. There might not be one word that describes your pain perfectly, but here are some you can try and use:
It can also be helpful to use metaphors and descriptive sentences such as “like a jackhammer” or “like hot ants crawling on my skin."
What is the average duration of the episode of pain? Use numbers and units of time. Also, make note of the length of time in between episodes of pain.
Where was your pain? Describe and point to the body sites where pain was experienced. Did the pain move?
3. Bring someone to your appointment
It can be difficult and intimidating to share personal information with a clinician. Bringing someone you trust to your appointment provides the opportunity for them to share information you may be unable to or uncomfortable with conveying.
There may also be some things you have overlooked throughout your journey with pain that others may have noticed. Bringing someone to your appointment allows the clinician to develop an understanding of your situation from a different perspective.
4. Ask for feedback
It can be hard to know how much information to share with clinicians. Sometimes we feel as though we share too much and are unsure if it is all relevant. Other times we feel as though we have not shared enough vital information.
To prevent this from happening, ask your clinician for feedback about the information you are sharing. They may ask you to prepare more or less information about a certain topic for your next appointment.
5. Don't wait to be asked
We typically wait to be asked a question before providing the relevant information. There is a chance that your clinician may not ask the question that prompts you to share. It is okay to offer information even if your clinician has not asked yet.
We hope some of these strategies can help you communicate about pain more effectively. If you're interested in booking an appointment with a Lifemark clinician, you can book one online.
This blog was written by Rosetti Li, an Occupational Therapy student at Queen's University.