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Talking with your doctor about arthritis pain

Pain is a personal experience. It can't be seen or identified by a medical test. Each person feels pain differently, and describing it can be a challenge.

But your doctor needs to understand your pain in order to guide your treatment. And the only way that can happen is if you can accurately describe it.

Try a pain diary

A good way to make sure your doctor gets a detailed description of your pain is to keep a pain diary. Whenever you feel significant pain, write down details such as:

  • The location of the pain. And be specific—for example, was the pain at the front or back of your knee? Did it involve one or both hands?
  • How long it lasted. Write down the time the pain started and when it stopped.
  • What may have caused the pain. What were you doing right before it happened? Did you have poor sleep the night before? Did you miss a dose of medication?
  • The intensity. Use a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 representing no pain and 10 representing extreme, unbearable pain.
  • The type of pain. Use descriptive words like aching, throbbing, pins-and-needles or stabbing. If you experience new pain or new symptoms, be sure to note that too.
  • How you tried to relieve it. Did you take medication? Did you try techniques such as a hot pack or massage? Note what worked and what didn't.
  • How the pain is affecting your life. Does it keep you awake at night or stop you from working? Pain can have an emotional impact too. Does it make you irritable or depressed? Those are valid concerns.

Working together

With a good description of your pain, your doctor will have a better chance of getting you the relief you need.

And keep this in mind: Careful pain descriptions do more than help diagnose. They also can help make you an active partner in your care.

reviewed 1/4/2019

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