How to Talk to Your Doctor About Your Pain
You would think that doctors, of all people, should be sensitive to pain. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case.
For one thing, doctors are human beings. The truth is, it’s really difficult for anyone – even doctors – to understand something they haven’t experiencecd themselves. We’re all that way. Someone who hasn’t been abused as a child can’t really understand the impact that experience has on the rest your life. Or, if you’ve never lost a child, you can’t really know the depth of emotional pain a parent feels in that situation. We may care and sincerely try to imagine what that person must be going through, but the fact is, we can’t fully understand it if we haven’t experienced it.
This situation is not helped by medical schools, which may not spend as much time as we would like teaching future doctors how to treat pain. On top of that, some doctors may be fearful of losing their licenses if they prescribe too many opioid (or narcotic) medicaitons or if one of their patients abuses the medication. So, when you put all of that together, it’s not surprising that sometimes doctors would rather just ignore pain than try to treat it.
Preparing to Talk to Your Doctor
So, how do you convince your doctor first that you are in pain, and second how bad your pain is? The first thing is to be prepared for your appointment. Don’t just go in there and “wing it.” Most of us get at least a little nervous in the doctor’s office and we’re apt to forget something important. Think out ahead of time what you want to tell and ask the doctor and write it down. Ideally, take two copies with you – one for you and one for the doctor to follow along and then put in your file.
Pain is subjective. It’s virtually impossible for one person to know exactly what another person’s pain feels like. So, particularly when your talking with your doctor, it’s important to describe your pain in a way that will give him or her the best picture possible of what you’re experiencing.
When it comes to pain, there are five questions you need to be prepared to answer for your doctor:
1. Where are you having pain? Be specific about exactly where the pain is. Don’t just say, “my back hurts.” Say, “my back hurts just above my waist, then the pain seems to travel into my hip and down the back of my leg.” If possible, point to the exact spot that is painful. If you have something like fibromyalgia where the pain may move around, tell him the different areas that are sometimes painful and which areas most often hurt.
2. When do you experience the pain? Saying you’re always in pain doesn’t really help much. You might say something like, “I always have a certain amount of aching pain in my whole body, but it’s worse when I first get up in the morning. Then if I stand for more than 10 minutes, I have severe low back pain.” Be sure to tell the doctor what movements or activities make the pain worse.