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6 Tips for Talking to Your Doctor About Pain

Describing your pain accurately can help ensure you get the right treatment for your needs.


If you have a chronic pain condition such as fibromyalgia or arthritis, becoming your own pain expert will let you make the most of the time you spend with your doctor. Studies show that people who take more time with their care can expect better results.

Here are six tips to help you talk accurately and specifically about your pain. To be able to get the best diagnosis and treatment, spend some time before your appointment to plan how you will tell your doctor about your pain. It may be helpful to make a list of what you are going to say when you see your doctor.

  1. Choose your words to describe pain. Try to use specific words that will let your doctor know how the pain feels to you. Here are some examples:
    • Achy
    • Burning
    • Deep pain
    • Dull
    • Pressure
    • Sharp
    • Stabbing
    • Stiff
    • Tender
    • Tugging
  2. Rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain at all and 10 being the worst pain ever.
  3. Be ready to tell your doctor when the pain is at its worst. Is it:
    • In the morning when you wake up?
    • During the day after activity?
    • In the evening before you go to sleep?
    • At night, interfering with sleep?
  4. Describe any other symptoms that accompany your pain. For instance, do you have:
    • Flu-like symptoms, such as being tired and having an achy feeling all over the body?
    • Rashes?
    • Other symptoms
  5. Describe where the pain is located. Be very specific. Keep track of pain by marking an "x" on a simple outline drawing of the body. Take the picture with you to the doctor as a visual reminder. When you talk to your doctor, point to a specific location or to more than one area on your body.
  6. Keep a pain log.
    Track your pain for a few days before seeing your doctor. In the pain log, keep track of items 1 through 5. Also note what medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, you took to relieve the pain and whether they helped. Include any herbal preparations. Also note any complementary treatments, like a massage, a warm bath or meditation. And note if these provided any relief.

By Alyssa Nyen, Contributing Writer


American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Getting the most out of your doctor’s visit. Accessed November 9, 2017.
American Chronic Pain Association. Preparing for your health care visit (summary PDF). Accessed November 9, 2017.
National Institutes of Health. Talking with your doctor. NIH News In Health. Accessed November 9, 2017.

Last Updated: November 13, 2017