How to Evaluate and Describe Your Own Pain

Copyright 2001 Cancer Care Inc.
Used here with permission

(Article originally developed for people with cancer, but many of the same ideas apply to any form of chronic pain)

Remember that the most important thing you can do to relieve your pain is to tell your doctor or nurse about it right away. It is a good idea for you or your family member to keep daily information about your pain, because on the day you go to the doctor you may not be having the pain, and may not remember the details. You can obtain a booklet containing a pain journal from the Iowa Cancer Pain Relief Initiative at 515-253-0147. Also, writing down the answers to the following questions about your pain daily will help your doctor understand how you are feeling and the best way to treat you.

1) Where is your pain located? Be sure to note all the places where you feel pain.

2) How would you describe your pain? Words like “discomfort” or “hurt” don’t really give your doctor the necessary information. It is important to be more precise. Is it sharp? Shooting? Burning? Do you experience numbness? Does it feel different at different times? Other words you may use to describe your pain:

Aching Pounding Prickly Tight Deep
Shock-like Stabbing Pinching Dull Tender
Throbbing Tingling Radiating Fullness Heaviness


3) When does it hurt? Is your pain predictable? When does it start? When is it better or worse? Does it wake you up at night? Does it hurt when you move, when you eat, or when you are in a certain position?

4) How severe is your pain? On a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is no pain at all and 10 is the worst pain you can imagine, how would you rate your pain? Use a pain control record.

5) What are you doing to control the pain, and is it helping? You may have found some ways to help yourself, such as taking medicine, using a heating pad, or cold pack. Using the same 10-point scale as above, compare your pain score from before you do what helps to about an hour afterwards.

6) How does your pain affect your everyday life? Have you stopped doing certain activities like walking, climbing stairs or working? Does your pain make it difficult for you to concentrate? Do you isolate yourself from others because you are in pain? Helping your doctor or nurse understand the how pain limits your activities and affects the quality of your life will help in setting goals for dealing with your pain.

Other Useful Tips

  • Bring your daily journal with you to each appointment, or use it when you are speaking to your doctor on the phone. If you don’t have the ability to keep daily information on your pain, ask someone close to you to help. They can ask you the questions and write down your answers. Bring this person to the appointment with you, so they can help you describe your pain. Your doctor or nurse should evaluate your pain and any changes in your at every visit. Don’t be afraid to add your own information if they haven’t asked the proper questions. Ask to see another doctor or nurse if you are not confident your pain is being treated or your concerns respected. Severe pain should be reported to your doctor right away, not at your next appointment. All pain should be reported, not just pain that is disabling.


  • Remember: YOU are the expert in your pain and what relieves it.