5 Important Things To Know About Your Pain

Linda BeaverRecently we interviewed consumer health advocate, Linda Beaver. Linda’s experience in the health sector is extensive and varies from clinical practice to education and management. 

But now, her role has changed. and Linda is all about empowering health consumers to become more engaged,  informed, confident and aware of what we should all expect as we navigate the complexities of the health system. We discussed how you can be more informed about your pain, how to describe it, monitor it and be a better participant when discussing it with your health consultation. 

Here are some great tips from Linda on how to Know your Pain.

This is an important topic

Pain is one of those things that we all experience, and the statistics tell us that it’s the key reason people seek medical advice. So to be able to talk about how we have all enabled ourselves and our family to be a little more aware of what our pain means to us is going to mean that we can then talk about it with more confidence when we start that conversation with our healthcare practitioner. Now that might be the doctor it might be the physio it could be the specialist.  It could be the osteopath, it could be the podiatrist.  It could be any number of health practitioners that you might consult about pain. 

So the most important thing is to recognize why we need to know about our own pain. And the reason is, it’s simple, because pain is a different perspective for everybody. We all have different wants and needs when we think about our pain and how it’s got to be managed. 

Pain is very personal

And that’s probably the biggest issue because what I might regard as being an excruciating pain, could be something that is really well tolerated by the next person. So we need to be pretty clear about how we interpret and relate to our own pain. Perception of pain

This image  puts into perspective  where this pain profile or awareness fits into the big picture of healthcare. So, pain for us is very personal. And it’s a very individual experience. But we need to be able to assist our healthcare practitioner, understand what our pain is all about, because their perception could be really quite different. They could have preconceived ideas about what it means if you say “oh yeah look it really hurts”, or “you know when I bend over I get pain”. 

It might not be a true representation of what your pain is really saying, so we need to be able to share that information in a way that’s meaningful. Otherwise, it complicates the issue and the potential management, because ultimately your health care practitioner is going to be the one that listens, takes notes, investigates, considers all the information about the way we describe our pain, and then make decisions about a diagnosis and management

So if we can’t get that message across properly, then we are compromising the potential for our successful treatment, or management. 

5 Important things

There are always a number of things that are very important when we start to think about our personal pain. And I’ve worked on a pattern of the rule of fives.  In so many areas of health advocacy and information that I’ve developed for healthcare consumers, there always seem to be five key points, and in this instance, I’ve got five important things about your pain. 

1. Where is it?

Know where it is.   Be able to describe it, or identify it.  Think about it when you get pain.  Its very easy to be caught up in pain and then you find that really what’s happening is you lose sight of where those claims are actually raised.

2. When does it occur?

When does that pain occur?  Does it hurt when you stand up? Does it hurt when you wake up in the morning? Does it hurt when you bend over?  Does it hurt when you walk?. Does it hurt when you sit down?  If you sit too long at the desk? Does it hurt if you drive for any great distance, or does it just hurt  at any time, or is it there all the time. That’s really telling information so when you’re describing your pain to your healthcare practitioner, having that little bit of information can really help in the appraisal of what you are trying to say about your pain, and the experience you’re having. As you enjoy your pain!!

3. When did it Start?

I don’t know about you but I can absolutely assure you there are so many occasions where you’ll be asked. 

“So, when did that pain start” “Well was it there last week” “I can’t remember”

…” now Hang on. When I had that meeting I couldn’t sit in the chair for too long”

It’s very difficult sometimes to be able to pinpoint exactly when pain happens. And when it starts, but that’s really important information once again, not only from the health practitioner perspective but also personally because it helps us when we’re thinking about our pain to put it into perspective. So when did that start, what was I doing that could be an indication of a trigger factor that maybe hadn’t been considered before.

4. What does it feel like?

Pain is one of those things that can represent itself in a myriad of different ways. It could be sharp, it could be dull, it could be throbbing,  it could be an ache.  It could be everywhere.  It could just be completely horrendous nagging dreadful pain that you think unrelenting, or it could be quite specific.  It could be sharp stabbing, it could be a normal tingling sort of pain.  So many ways to describe pain. 


And that’s incredibly important because it will help to differentiate different types of pain and where it might be coming from.  Is it muscle pain?  Is it nerve pain, etc.

5. What makes it better or worse?

Is it medication? Is it exercise?  Is it doing nothing and resting?. Is it elevating that leg, that might be causing you some pain?. So many things can make the pain better, but so too there are lots of things that can make it worse. So if, we have the opportunity to think about these things and write it down, or document in some way, then this is giving really valuable information to the healthcare practitioner, about what you present with when you talk about your pain and where that fits into the whole clinical picture. Often there are really quick judgments made about someone who comes in and talks about pain, and it might not always be an accurate assessment. So to be able to offer this level of specific information about how you feel when you’re describing your pain can be absolutely vital when there’s management or treatment plans being considered

What does it feel like?

These are just some of the words that you can use to describe pain. These are the sorts of things you can write down or note when you’re describing the way you’re feeling when you’re experiencing your pain. Is it cramping, aching, tingling, shooting, is it a taut constricting sort of pain, or is there a stinging or burning and crushing is that excruciating. Is it occurring in a specific area or does it radiate or spread in any way. All these are really good clinical clues that might not mean much to you, but it can be really telling for the health practitioner. If you can identify the sort of pain that you’ve got, when you’re experiencing it, what you can do to make it all better, or things that might make it worse when it started. How long it’s been there.  All that’s really powerful information to help a diagnosis be made.

It’s giving that healthcare practitioner, really strong insights into what your pain is all about.

pain scale faces

One of the things that is also really helpful is using a Pain scale.  Sometimes health practitioners will have a pain chart or a pain scale or a document that you can use to identify where your pain is. Because sometimes it can be pretty tricky. You know you sort of go, oh yeah it was really bad. Oh well no Hang on. It was the left side, the right side, hang on, I’ve got a, I’ve got to do that movement again to see just where the pain starts. 

If you’ve got a little diagram or picture, or even a sketch of a stick figure. It helps because sometimes time comes and goes. Sometimes we discount it.  If you’ve been out in the garden all weekend pulling weeds out digging garden beds of course you’re going to get pain in your back potentially, or you might get sore knees if you’ve been crouched down on the ground and pulling out weeds.  But if it continues, is that the only reason it’s there? Or is there something else going on that’s been triggered by that activity. 

So knowing where your pain is is just as important as knowing how to describe it. Sometimes a little cross or a dot or a circle on a stick figure or something like this can be incredibly valuable also.

So one of the things that I think is very helpful  is having a pain scale. Health practitioners may well give you something like this

Pain bars from doctors

 so that you can mark where your pain level was on a given day. This is particularly helpful if you’re on a medication regime to manage acute pain or if you’re on a chronic pain management plan. If you keep a record of where your pain level is at each day, or if you make a note that says today I didn’t walk, and my pain was worse. Or today I went to the pool and I swam, and my pain dropped back to a five out of 10, then that’s telling over a period of time, about the way in which your pain reacts in response to activities and/or some of the management that might be in place as well. So having these resources can be one of the biggest benefits to you, and all of us as healthcare consumers to assist our health care practitioners, reach decisions that will be of benefit to us. And it also helps to reinforce treatment options. 

One of the important things is to be clear about what treatment option is preferred! 

Do you want to go down the medication pathway, or explore other ways of managing pain? Is exercise something you would prefer.? Does medication work or will exercise relieve it or will there be an opportunity for you to change lifestyle,  introducing some behaviours that can minimize the pain you’re experiencing. This is the sort of thing that you can ask your healthcare practitioner and get a really clear insight into what they can offer.

But sometimes, if you don't ask the question, the traditional treatment plan might be put in place.

Eg.  “I want you to go on some medication we’ll try this and see how it works”, or “I want you to you know go off and see a physio and get some exercise”, or” I want you to go and get tests done”.  Those options might be appropriate, but it’s really important for all of us, when we are in this situation of trying to identify, understand, and describe our own pain to be aware of what we want to get out of any treatment that’s on offer.

Sometimes our perceptions can be a little bit different to the perceptions of our healthcare practitioner, and I had one, one person who told me her story about getting some back surgery, and her specific goal was to get out of pain. The surgeon specific goal was that she would get more movement in the back and isn’t that fantastic.  But I’m still in pain. Oh yes, but look at all the movements you’ve got.  That’s a really good outcome. 

It's a different perception, what we want to see, as an outcome from our pain management has to be driven by us.

We are the ones that suffered, and we will be the ones that can help determine how effective the treatment is going to be by working with our health practitioner in a very informed and confident way. And that confidence will be built by the opportunity we have to be aware of our pain, what it means to us, and how we can best describe and manage it. The important thing is to understand that as a health consumer, a patient, a carer, a family member,  we all have a responsibility to try and improve the outcomes for our healthcare by taking that little bit of extra ownership by taking more responsibility for being confident about what our problems are. 

Pain is a key indicator of a physical issue that may need some significant intervention.  It may need some moderate intervention, but we need to be involved in a very active way in how that plays out as far as our treatment is concerned. Having access to information that we have about our pain and taking ownership, really is a driving force. 

So I hope that gives you a little bit of insight into some of the ways in which you and I can take a little bit more control and ownership of that understanding and recognizing what our pain is all about. And being able to pass that on in an informed and confident way to our healthcare practitioners. 

Thank you Linda for being so insightful for our community. And, you know, they can take on board, these suggestions and the way you’ve described it to use their own information and be in control of it. The next question that some people might have is that the whole world has moved to a digital place. We have people, reverting to using telehealth, but also physical appointments. So how does the consumer or the patient, communicate their information about their pain in this new world.  The questions of how to track your pain, own it and be in control of it. Here are  some examples of how Wanngi helps you to do that. 

Wanngi Symptoms tracking

So when you’re managing or communicating your health history, documenting your symptoms and being able to communicate them at your next appointment. Here we have some examples of how you can do that within Wanngi. It’s about providing the information. When and how it happened. Using the pain scale as described, or you can simplistically describe it. So this is the way that you can manage this in a digital way. The next step of course is how do you communicate this at your next appointment. And what you can do from wanngi is at the press of a button, extract an export of your health history including your symptoms and provide it to the doctor at that appointment. It’s very simple to do. And it’s all about you feeling in control.