Pain Management

Talking with Your Doctor about Pain

Although pain is common, many people have a hard time describing it exactly to their doctor or nurse. But according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), considering these questions and issues about pain can help you and your health care practitioner have the best possible treatment:

These include:

Where does it hurt?

When did the pain start? Does it come and go?

What does it feel like? Is the pain sharp, dull, or burning? Would you use some other word to describe it?

Did it begin suddenly, or have you been experiencing it for some time?

Do you have other symptoms?

When do you feel the pain? In the morning? In the evening? After eating?

Is there anything you do that makes the pain feel better or worse? For example, does using a heating pad or ice pack help? Does changing your position from lying down to sitting up make it better?

What medicines, including over-the-counter medications and non-medicine therapies, have you tried, and what was their effect?


Overall, there are two kinds of pain, the NIA says. Acute pain begins suddenly, lasts for a short time, and goes away as your body heals. You might feel acute pain after surgery or if you have a broken bone, infected tooth, or kidney stone.

Pain that lasts for three months or longer is called chronic pain. This pain often affects older people. For some people, chronic pain is caused by a health condition such as arthritis. It may also follow acute pain from an injury, surgery, or other health issue that has been treated, like post-herpetic neuralgia after shingles.

Your doctor or nurse may ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you can imagine. Or, your doctor may ask if the pain is mild, moderate, or severe. Some doctors or nurses have pictures of faces that show different expressions of pain and ask you to point to the face that shows how you feel. Your doctor may ask you to keep a diary of when and what kind of pain you feel every day.

Everyone reacts to pain differently. Some people feel they should be brave and not complain when they hurt. Other people are quick to report pain and ask for help.

Worrying about pain is common. This worry can make you afraid to stay active, and it can separate you from your friends and family. Working with your doctor, you can find ways to continue to take part in physical and social activities despite having pain.

Some people put off going to the doctor because they think pain is part of aging and nothing can help. This is not true.

It is important to see a doctor if you have a new pain. Finding a way to manage pain is often easier if it is addressed early.

Talk with your doctor about how long it may take before you feel better. Often, you have to stick with a treatment plan before you get relief. It’s important to stay on a schedule. Sometimes this is called “staying ahead” or “keeping on top” of your pain. Be sure to tell your doctor about any side effects. You might have to try different treatments until you find a plan that works for you. As your pain lessens, you can likely become more active and will see your mood lift and sleep improve.

For more information from the NIA on pain-related issues, click here.

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