Many ailments can show up as ‘invisible pain’. For sufferers of conditions such as fibromyalgia, understanding and learning how to describe pain to the doctor can be difficult. It’s important that you know as much about your pain as possible before heading to your GP, as this prevents repeat appointments and misdiagnosis. Tracking when the pain occurs, identifying triggers and learning how to describe the feeling can lead to a faster diagnosis — but where do you begin?
Step 1: Learn to describe the type of pain
We first know we have pain in the body when we feel an unpleasant sensation that is hard to ignore. It can be felt in a range of ways and be caused by a variety of factors. Because of the broad definition of pain, it’s important that you understand as much as possible about your own pain to help you describe it to others.
We can break down pain into two main categories, which are acute and chronic. Acute pain is short term and is often felt as a severe or sudden pain that eases with time. Opposite to this is chronic pain, which is persistent and can last for months — this is a recognised condition.
It’s also helpful to understand pain by determining the source. Your pain typically falls under one of the following categories:
- Neuropathic pain (nerve-injury)
- Radicular pain (pain travels down the path of the nerve)
- Somatic pain (caused by stimulation of pain receptors on the surface of the body or in musculoskeletal tissues)
- Myofascial pain (a type of somatic pain, associated with muscle pain)
- Visceral pain (relating to the internal organs)
You can categorise your pain more accurately by following the next steps, understand the cause better and find a treatment with the help of your GP.
Step 2: Figure out the triggers
Here’s something that may surprise you! Many triggers of pain, such as your environment can cause pain without you even realising. Identifying triggers can help you avoid them in the future and learn how to deal with them. You might find that your pain is associated with the following:
- Anxiety and stress
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Temperature change
- Inflammatory food
Step 3: Understanding your pain intensity
How do you measure your pain intensity? By recognising when it gets worse and the potential triggers of this, you’ll gain better awareness of what you’re dealing with. A basic pain level chart is usually a scale of 1 to 10 that ranges from no pain to moderate pain to the worst possible pain. You can find a detailed explanation of each stage of the scale here.
Step 4: Track your pain and make a record of it
It’s helpful to recognise when you’re experiencing pain, as this can help you monitor your triggers and determine if certain things make the pain better or worse.
What methods can you employ to track your pain? Ultimately, it’s whatever works for you, There are apps out there, such as CatchMyPain which allows you to draw the location and intensity of your pain on a model, track happiness and fatigue along with other features. Or, you might decide to create your own diary in a notepad. For this idea, just remember to make note of:
- The date and time you feel the pain
- How long it lasted
- Location of the pain
- Intensity of pain
- Any potential triggers
- Any treatment you used
Step 5: Can your pain be treated at home?
Think are some ways to relieve your pain at home. But of course, if a pain persists, it is always best to seek medical advice. If it’s a painful injury that you’ve recently incurred, try the RICE method as soon as you can. This stands for rest, ice, compress and elevate and this technique works to keep swelling down.
There are over-the-counter anti-inflammatories you can turn to and they include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. They work well to treat muscle pain and inflammation injuries such as sprains and knee pain flare ups. Always read the instructions before administrating medication yourself though.
Minimal side effects are associated with medication such as gels, creams and sprays. These are all available from supermarkets and the pharmacy. These work by relieving the pain orally and are often used to treat muscle, tendon and joint pain.
Step 6: Putting your symptoms into words, to your doctor
Prepare what you want to say to your doctor, ahead of attending your appointment. That way, you won’t forget to mention a specific symptom and reduce the risk of a misdiagnosis.
Bring along your pain tracker to show your doctor and have bullet points prepared that you can discuss — this could be triggers that you’ve identified and any treatments that you’ve tried at home.
Remember, getting familiar with your own pain and symptoms is the first step in treating it. Follow our 6-step guide and try to find the best treatment for you and your needs.