In Pain? 4 Things You Really Need to Tell Your Doctor

Don't just visit your doctor, C.H.A.T. with them.

Don't just visit your doctor, C.H.A.T. with them.

Have you ever been asked to place a numerical value on physical pain you are experiencing? You're not alone. In doctor's office and hospital settings, this seems to be the standard method of pain communication. In most cases, this method is more problematic than it is helpful.

Numerically scaling pain levels, is...well...relative. A '10' level of pain to one person might mean you're simply too uncomfortable to go about your daily routine. For someone else, a '10' might represent an extreme sense of weakness to the point of passing out, or worse.

An article by NPR uses 33-year-old Adam Rosette, who was recently hospitalized for fibrous dysplasia, as an example. Reluctant to label the pain too high, he recalls, "I don't think I ever answered higher than a '7' because an '8' would be, in my mind, like I'm missing half of my body or a limb." 

How can a doctor know whether someone's '7' is more or less manageable than that of someone else? The truth is, a doctor can't. As a result, both your comfort level and how aggressively your pain is addressed is affected.

To put an end to the ambiguity surround numerical scaling and physical pain, we suggest using what we call the C.H.A.T. method when talking to your doctor: Capacity, History, Analogy, and Timeline.



Be clear about how your pain interferes with daily activities. Think function, not feeling. How capable are you of going through daily tasks, like tying your shoes, sitting through a car ride, or going to the bathroom?



Explain the pain's current and past locations, movement, other treatments you've tried, and family history. Leave nothing out! 



It's okay to be flowery in your description of pain. Specify where it is, how it moves, when it comes, when it goes, etc. Go so far as to compare your current pain to the worst pain you've ever had, such as childbirth or kidney stones. 



Tell your doctor how your pain builds and calms down throughout the day. Do you experience pain first thing in the morning? On your daily commute? Does it go away at any certain time fo the day? Daily timing can be an important factor in understanding the source of pain, so communicating your pain timeline clearly with your doctor can more positively impact the efficiency of your treatment plan.

The Sarton Summary

What you tell your doctor influences your comfort levels AND your treatment. It is important for your expression, and for your doctor's understanding, that you both see eye-to-eye when it comes to the levels of pain you are experiencing. We encourage you to speak up, be specific, and prepare questions for your doctor! Chat it up.

Sarton Physical Therapy and its affiliates recommend that you contact your physician before participating in any physical therapy, exercise or fitness related programs. Learn More.