Tips for Expressing Pain to Your Doctor

female patient talking to her doctor

Doctors are not mind readers.  While some patients tend to invest us with magical powers of discernment, we only have diagnostics, medical history and what you tell us to go on.  From that information, we do our utmost to apply the right therapeutic response.

And when you’re talking to a doctor about the kind of pain you’re experiencing, communication is paramount for that reason.  Not everyone knows what to say when someone asks them how severe their pain is.  It’s a deceptively difficult question, as people experience pain in a variety of ways.  If two people have the same pain level, they may choose different ways to express it.  One may say the pain is unbearable, while the other says it’s bad but not intolerable.

This is a genuine problem for medical professionals and patients, so I’ve put together these tips for expressing pain to your doctor.

Answering the Question

Your doctor will understand the nature of the ailment that’s causing you pain and will be seeking the way forward toward appropriate treatment by what you tell her.

You’ll be asked to describe your pain symptoms – location, duration, number of episodes per day, intensity and type.  Most doctors have a protocol for talking to their patients about pain.  They know that pain is highly personal and that pain thresholds vary enormously, from patient to patient.

Your doctor will be aware of how long you’ve been dealing with the pain but elaborating on that information is your responsibility.  You’ll be asked things like:

  • How often does the pain happen and how long does it last for?
  • What triggers your pain?
  • What relieves your pain (and for how long)?
  • Is the pain internal or does it manifest on the surface of the body? Both?


While you may be experiencing wild fluctuations in the intensity of your pain, it’s important to give your doctor an idea of that intensity.  For this purpose, most doctors rely on a pain-intensity scale, numbered from 1 to 10, with 10 being excruciating, 5 being moderate and 0 (of course) being pain-free.

For your reference, following are the global descriptions accompanying the pain scale:

  1. Pain so mild you usually don’t think about it at all.
  2. An annoyance which occasionally flares up.
  3. You notice the pain but you’re able to adapt to and accommodate it.
  4. Pain that’s usually on your mind unless you’re engrossed in doing something.
  5. While it can’t be ignored, the pain hasn’t stopped you from doing things.
  6. Pain that makes it tough to keep going and which interferes with concentration.
  7. Serious pain which makes life unpleasant, interfering with daily activities. Interrupts sleep.
  8. Intense and persistent pain which makes it difficult to interact with others.
  9. Pain which is out of control and dominates your waking hours, while preventing sleep.
  10. Mobility probably compromised. Unable to get out of bed.

Back & Body Medical is a specialized, award-winning pain relief clinic offering people in pain award-winning multi-disciplinarian care.

Contact us to discover renewed quality of life.

WordPress Video Lightbox