Often times, during my initial evaluation of a patient, I will begin a series of questions regarding their pain’s quantity and quality that leaves my examination room filled with the sound of crickets—if you would—utter silence, much confusion, followed by prolonged contemplation. It’s as if my patient has shown up for an exam for which (s)he has failed to study.
I do not ask these detailed questions to befuddle, but rather to glean some very important, often diagnosis-enhancing, information. If you or someone you care about ever find yourself needing to seek medical attention for a “pain issue”, please allow me to assist you in gathering some important “pain facts” before you head out the door to be examined.
Pain is complicated. It has physical, chemical, mental, and emotional components and, therefore, it comes in many different “sizes and colors”, if you will. Here is a list of “pain lingo” that will enable you to more accurately describe what you are experiencing so that your practitioner will be better able to diagnose, treat and re-evaluate you (based on the same criteria) as your treatment progresses.
Frequency-Is your pain constant, intermittent or occasional? Constant means there is never a time when you are without pain. Intermittent states that your symptoms come and go throughout the day, every day. Occasional indicates that your symptoms are infrequent, present for a brief portion of either the day or week.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the absolute worst imaginable), where does your pain range? 0-4/10, 3-7/10? Pay attention and be as accurate as you can. There is no wrong answer—it is how YOU quantify your pain that matters.
How you describe the nature of your pain sensation is important because different structures in the body can give rise to unique sensations. Adjectives to consider include: dull, sharp, shooting/electrical, throbbing, burning, tingling (pins and needles), and numbness (lack of sensation).
Then there are other questions to be answered. (Yes, by now you are beginning to feel my patients’ “pain”.) Does the pain awaken you at night? Is it position-dependent (i.e. worse with sitting)? Any easing or aggravating factors?
Armed with these details, your practitioner will have a much more accurate and informed diagnosis to offer you—and that helps everyone involved!