Why you should take time to understand your pain before a GP visit

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Many pain sufferers know that 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: Understanding the type of pain

We’ve all experienced a certain type of pain before. 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.

Acute and chronic are the two main categories of pain. 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.

Then you must determine the source of the pain. 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)

By taking note of the next steps, you should be able to categorise your pain more accurately, better understand the cause, and find a treatment with the help of your GP.


Step 2: Identifying triggers

Your environment can cause pain without you even realising, that’s why it’s important to try and get to the bottom of the cause. 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: Determining pain intensity  

Use a pain intensity measurement to monitor how your pain varies. 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: Tracking your pain

Next, you should recognise when it’s happening, as this can help you monitor your triggers and determine if certain things make the pain better or worse. What’s the best way 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 you treat it at home?

Finding home relief could be the first step to recovery. 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.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may work for you too, these include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. They work well to treat muscle pain and inflammation injuries such as sprains or to relieve shoulder pain. Always read the instructions before administrating medication yourself though.

There are some types of medication out there that has few side effects. These include gels, creams and sprays that are 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: Knowing what to say 

Try to prepare what you’re going to say before you get to the doctors. This way, you don’t forget to mention a specific symptom and reduce the risk of a misdiagnosis. Show your doctor your pain tracker 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.

Taking time to understand your pain is the first step in treating it. Follow our 6-step guide and try to find the best treatment for you and your needs.

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