How can I help my doctor understand the severity of my pain?

  • Sep 23, 2020

 You have to use descriptors. Not only is it difficult for the patient to express to the provider what their pain is, it’s difficult for the provider to understand what patients are dealing with on a daily basis. So for example, I’ll say to a patient, “What’s your pain on a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being nothing and ten being the worst imaginable?” If it’s a woman I always say, “Have you had a child? We’re going to call childbirth the worst absolute pain.” If it’s a man I’ll say, “Listen, if I was to take a hot iron and place it on your tongue, that’s a 10.”

I realize that one person’s 10 is not another person’s 10, and that’s why using a numerical scale is not 100%. You need to tell a provider, “It feels like somebody put ice on a sore tooth,” or “It feels like sticking a knife in my belly and twisting it, it’s a jabbing kind of pain.” You need to be very descriptive. You also need to tell them the things that you can do, the things that you can’t do, and the things that you want to do.


Here are some descriptive words for pain:


  • Aching.
  • Cramping.
  • Fearful.
  • Gnawing.
  • Heavy.
  • Hot or burning.
  • Sharp.
  • Shooting

Here are adjectives  to use for your pain:


  • Achy.
  • Burning.
  • Stabbing or piercing.
  • Raw.
  • Cramping.
  • Throbbing.
  • Tiring.
  • Heavy

If your are a hands on person you may want to either draw on paper where your pain is and mark with an small (x) or show them by standing up.