CHANGE your pain

How to prepare for an appointment with a healthcare professional about your pain

How to prepare for an appointment with a healthcare professional about your pain

If you are visiting your general practitioner (GP), family doctor or primary care physician about your chronic (long-lasting) pain, it is a good idea to prepare for your appointment so you (and your doctor) can get the most out of your time together.

Because there are many causes and types of chronic pain, people often experience pain differently.1 How you communicate your pain to your doctor may help them to diagnose and/or treat it.2,3

In this article, we will discuss how to:

  • Know Your Pain
  • Describe Your Pain
  • Communicate Your Pain
  • Know your pain so you can understand your pain better

    Pain has many different aspects so it is good to keep track of your pain and how it affects you. This can provide helpful context to your doctor, helping them to identify patterns and understand how your pain impacts your life.4,5

    Here is a list of different aspects of pain that are useful to keep track of:6

  • Whether your pain is continuous or tends to come and go
  • If it is not continuous, how long the pain lasts
  • Whether there is a particular time of day you typically experience pain or when it is worse than usual
  • The location(s) of your pain
  • Whether the intensity of your pain changes when you are in a certain position, e.g. sitting or standing
  • Whether your pain is impacting on your daily activities, e.g. work, socialising
  • If your pain is affecting your sleep

    Chronic pain can also have an impact on your emotions and feelings, which, in turn, can worsen your pain,3 so it can also be beneficial to keep track of any emotional distress (e.g. depression, anxiety, frustration) that you may experience because of your pain.

    If this is your first visit to the doctor about your chronic pain, it can also be helpful to make a list of treatments that you have tried. If you stopped using any treatment, note down the reason(s) why, e.g. perhaps there was a side effect or the treatment stopped working over a period of time. These treatments may include (but are not limited to) medication bought from a pharmacy or activities such as yoga.

    You can use the CHANGE PAIN pain diary template to get started tracking your pain.


    Describe your pain so your pain can be better understood by others

    Pain is very individual and while doctors can measure the impact on the body, they rely on your description to direct them on what the cause might be and the type of pain you have.7

    A pain intensity scale is often used to determine the ‘strength’ of your pain, typically on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is no pain at all and 10 is pain as bad as you can imagine. However, plenty of doctors and nurses have pointed out that this scale has potential for misunderstandings and bias;3,7 therefore, it is important to provide context on what you mean.

    Pain can also be described in terms of sensations,3 but it can be difficult to describe them to others. Watch this video for some ideas of how to describe your pain.



    The My Pain Questionnaire can help you to describe your pain and where it occurs on your body. You can fill it out before your appointment and talk through it with your doctor when describing your pain.


    Communicate your pain so you and your healthcare professional can start to control your pain

    Appointments with doctors can be short; therefore, before your appointment, use the pain diary and pain questionnaire to make a list of the key points that you want to discuss with your doctor.

    Key pieces of information your doctor may want to know are:6

  • When did the pain start?
  • Where is the pain?
  • How long does the pain last?
  • How bad is the pain (e.g. does it interfere with day-to-day activities)?
  • How would you describe your pain?
  • Do you have any other symptoms along with your pain (e.g. nausea, numbness)?
  • Have you done or taken anything to treat the pain prior to this appointment?

    As well as the list of key points, you might also want to make a list of questions to ask your doctor, so you don’t forget something on the day.

    You can learn more about how to communicate with a healthcare professional here.

    • References

      1. Treede RD, Rief W, Barke A, et al. Chronic pain as a symptom or a disease: The IASP Classification of Chronic Pain for the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Pain 2019; 160: 19–27.

      2. Henry SG, Matthias MS. Patient-clinician communication about pain: A conceptual model and narrative review. Pain Med (United States) 2018; 19: 2154–65.

      3. Clauw DJ, Essex MN, Pitman V, Jones KD. Reframing chronic pain as a disease, not a symptom: Rationale and implications for pain management. Postgrad Med 2019; 131: 185–98.

      4. De Wit R, Van Dam F, Hanneman M, et al. Evaluation of the use of a pain diary in chronic cancer pain patients at home. Pain 1999; 79: 89–99.

      5. Marceau LD, Link C, Jamison RN, Carolan S. Electronic diaries as a tool to improve pain management: Is there any evidence? Pain Med 2007; 8: S101–9.

      6. Clayton H, Reschak G, Gaynor S, Creamer J. A novel program to assess and manage pain. Medsurg Nurs 2000; 9: 318–21.

      7. Dansie EJ, Turk DC. Assessment of patients with chronic pain. Br J Anaesth 2013; 111: 19–25.