41. How to Describe Your Pain and Get Relief

Pain is a useful tool – one you wouldn’t want to be without. It lets you know when a tooth is infected, a leg is broken, or you’ve touched something hot enough to burn your skin. But sometimes the fact that you’re in pain isn’t enough to help your doctor determine what’s wrong. You have to explain what kind of pain you have – throbbing or sharp, constant or intermittent, mild or intense.

Keeping a pain diary or journal can help identify the causes of difficult-to-explain pain or measure improvement if you’re being treated for a painful condition. Record the following kinds of information.

  1. When did you first notice the pain?

  2. How often do you feel pain and when does it occur?

  3. Do you associate the pain with some activity?

  4. Does it move from one spot to another?

  5. How long does the pain last?

  6. Does aspirin relieve the pain?

  7. What do you do to try to relieve the pain? Does it work?

  8. Is the pain associated with any other symptoms (like nausea or fatigue)?

To describe your pain more precisely, consult the table below which gives some terms useful for describing pain and a scale to rate its intensity.

Chapter 1
  1. Fast Relief for Everyday Health Problems













Instructions: Using the Pain Intensity Scale, assign a number to each term that best describes your pain and its intensity.

Rate Your Pain

Source: Adapted from “The McGill Questionnaire,” by Ronald Melzack, Ph.D., published with permission in “How to Talk to Your Doctor About Acute Pain” (Wilmington, Del.: Du Pont Pharmaceuticals, 1987).


























Pain Intensity Scale – Mild: 1; Uncomfortable: 2; Distressing: 3; Horrible: 4

Description of Pain