Here’s how to describe your pain to your doctor


Pain is the most common experience we face as humans, yet it’s the most difficult to describe. We all know what it feels like to be in pain. But, everyone’s pain tolerance, the language used to describe pain, and their reactions to it differ as much as our personalities. This makes chronic pain diagnosis difficult, especially if there are no definitive test results. 

If you are frustrated in depicting your pain to a doctor accurately or a loved one, you’re not alone. This is a common struggle with our patients, so we’ve created this guide to help you better describe your pain and have us understand precisely what you’re going through:


Chronic pain is not the same as pain immediately after an injury. It is not always constant and often follows certain events or times of the day. This information can help your doctor tremendously in accurately diagnosing and treating your pain. Keep a pain journal with the following news to bring to your next appointment: 

  • The time of day
  • How often the pain occurs throughout the day
  • How long the pain lasts (is it constant or intermittent?)
  • If the pain lasts overnight and for how long


Specific events can trigger chronic pain. Bending over, going outside in the cold, and disruptions in your sleep schedule can all worsen the pain. If you notice any specific triggers, let your doctor know. Some of the most common ones include: 

  • After a specific physical activity is performed
  • When outside temperatures drop
  • When certain foods are eaten
  • When stress levels are higher


The pain itself isn’t the only important thing to communicate. How the pain changes or limits your life is essential for your doctor to understand, so they know the severity of the situation. Let your doctor know if you can’t perform simple activities or avoid specific problems due to pain. 


The physical sensations experienced during a chronic pain episode can be difficult to describe. To the best of your ability, focus on the trends and use as many words as possible to communicate the type of pain. Some common descriptors  include: 

  • Burning
  • Aching
  • Sore
  • Cramping
  • Sharp
  • Stabbing
  • Tender
  • Throbbing
  • Pounding
  • Twinging
  • Tingling
  • Stiff
  • Dull

Failed Remedies

Tell your doctor every remedy you’ve tried, from medications to physical therapy to topical treatments and everything in between. They need to know what’s not working so they can find a cure that will. 

How To Use The Pain Scale

Like the language used to describe pain, the pain scale can seem very subjective. However, your doctor needs to know how intense the experience is for you so they can better understand your situation as a whole. When asked to rate your pain on a scale from 1-10, this is typically what we as physicians mean:

1 to 3: Mild pain that is noticeable and possibly distracting, but does not generally hinder everyday life 

4 to 6: Moderate pain that disrupts physical or mental activity and is distracting

7 to 10: Debilitating intense pain and preventing most or all types of regular activity.

These tools can help you better communicate with your physician so you can find a cure for your chronic pain. Don’t be afraid to talk about every symptom, as they can all be clues in helping us find a diagnosis and long-lasting cure.