When dealing with medical issues or a surgical procedure, you should never approach pain with a grin and bear it attitude. Communicate you have pain, because your healthcare provider probably has solutions for your it. Pain assessment is also a critical step in diagnosing and treating any condition.

Pain management is so important that the Joint Commission — a leading accrediting organization in the industry — requires facilities and providers to put standard of care in place to ensure these symptoms are addressed and managed in a timely, effective manner. But before your doctor can make recommendations for treatment, they must understand what you are feeling.

When Should You Tell Your Healthcare Provider About Pain?

Communicate pain when you feel it rather than trying to wait it out if you’re already being treated, and if you’re dealing with recurring pain and don’t have a treatment plan, consider making an appointment with your doctor.

You should tell your healthcare providers about pain:

  • During office visits. The location, level and type of pain you feel are clues that lead to an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.
  • Before and during procedures. Your comfort matters to doctors and nurses, but providers can’t reduce discomfort they don’t know about.
  • During recovery. Following surgical procedures, it’s natural to experience some levels of discomfort. Discuss pain as accurately as possible with your doctors and nurses so they can ensure you’re healing appropriately and provide recommendations for managing pain as you recover

Don’t limit your description to just these words; use metaphors and explanations you’re most comfortable with to help your doctor understand your pain.

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What Information About Pain Useful?

Pain is subjective, so how can you ensure a healthcare provider understands yours? The key is to provide as many details as you can. Many providers use the LOCATES method of pain reporting.

Location of Pain

Tell the doctor where the pain starts and if it travels (or radiates) to other parts of the body. Pain that starts in the back might move into the legs. If you’re not sure how to verbally explain the location of pain, point to the area on your body for accuracy.

Other Symptoms

Do other symptoms seem to come before, during or after the pain? Symptoms that might be associated with pain can include nausea, weakness, numbness or dizziness.

Character of the Pain

Try to categorize the type of pain you feel.  Words you might use to describe pain include:

  • Stabbing: Pain that comes intermittently or with certain movement and feels sharp and sudden
  • Burning: Feelings of extreme heat or like your skin is burning
  • Throbbing: Pain that pulses and may be associated with a swollen feeling
  • Tenderness: Discomfort when the area is touched
  • Shooting: Pain that starts in one area and rapidly moves to another
  • Radiating: Pain that starts in one area and moves outward, possibly in more than one direction
  • Cramping: Dull aches, typically felt in muscle areas

Don’t limit your description to just these words; use metaphors and explanations you’re most comfortable with to help your doctor understand your pain.

Alleviation or Aggravation Factors

Does anything make the pain better? What movements, situations, foods or other factors seem to trigger the pain or make it worse?

Timing of Pain

Tell your doctor how long you’ve had the pain and how long each episode lasts on average. Is the pain constant, or does it come and go? Does it seem more prevalent at certain times of day?

Environmental Factors

Some pain is associated with a certain place or environment. Consider whether your pain happens more at home, at work or in other locations.

Severity of Pain

Many practitioners ask you to rate pain on a scale of one through 10. On such scales, one to three is mild, four to six is moderate and seven to 10 is severe. Zero is considered no pain and 10 is typically the “worst pain imaginable.”

Reports published by the National Institutes of Health recognize that pain is subjective, and a severity scale alone (no matter which types a physician favors) typically doesn’t provide enough information for accurate diagnosis and treatment. When discussing pain with your doctor, cover as many of the LOCATES topics as you can to encourage positive outcomes.

Dr. Tammy Hoyle

Dr. Tammy Hoyle

Dr. Tammy Hoyle is a retired LPN with more than 35 years in healthcare. She worked predominantly with elderly dementia patients and patients with spinal cord injuries.

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