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Your words matter: How to explain your pain

If you’ve ever been asked to rate your pain on a 0-10 scale, you’ll know how hard that can be. It might change. It might be a 3/10 in the morning, but a 9/10 when you start moving. So when someone asks you to rate it out of 10, what do you do? Do you put it as a 3 or a 9? Or do you go somewhere in the middle and say a 6/10? Taking the middle road might seem like a good idea, and is often what happens. The problem is- that doesn’t explain to your chiropractor that sometimes it’s not so bad, and sometimes it’s a heck of a lot worse and completely stops you from doing anything with your day.

The challenge of explaining your pain to someone else who needs to understand it in order to care for you is a big one. This is why we want you to get creative with the words you’re using when explaining it to us.

As chiropractors, helping you to describe what’s happening to you is one of the most important things we can do for you. Not only will it help us to understand how things are affecting you, when, and how severely, it too can help us treat you more effectively. In a recent study, researchers analysed data from studies which asked chronic pain patients to rate their pain using both numbers and words. Patients were asked to rate their pain on a scale of 0 to 10, and they were also asked the question, “Is your pain tolerable?”

“Surprisingly, three-quarters of the patients who rated their pain between 4 and 7 on the numerical scale, a range that typically calls for higher doses of medications, also described their pain as “tolerable” — a description that normally means no more pain treatment is needed.”

You can see, then, the importance of making sure your chiropractor truly understands your experience. Otherwise, we run the risk of over- or under-treating you, simply because we didn’t truly understand what you felt, what you were experiencing.

Now, if you’re sat there thinking “I don’t know how to describe it” you’re not alone.  Many of us lack the words to describe the pain, or don’t want to tell it how it is in case it sounds odd. You might put a brave face on, and not want to make a big deal out of it. Things might change so often and so frequently that you wouldn’t even know where to begin. Don’t worry- we’ve heard it all, and sometimes the more involved descriptions give us the very best understanding. “It’s like an angry terrier biting at me.” “It’s like a niggling, annoying toothache.” “It’s kind of blurry, like smoke, when I try to get a grip on it it disappears.” Once, someone even said their pain was like a Dementor from Harry Potter, “Constantly chasing me, sucking the life out of me.”

These words mean so much more to us than “It’s a 7/10.” These words can help us to help you.



Next time you’re asked to explain what’s happening to you to someone, get a little bit creative.

Use some metaphors. Draw a picture of it. Whatever works! Written below are some questions which are the kind that we often use to help our patients express their pain. It may help to think about what you would say in answer:

    • “What does your pain feel like to you?”
    • “Where is it? Does it move? Where to?”
    • “What colour is it?”
    • “Does it have a shape?”
    • “Does it have a texture?”
    • “What does your pain mean to you?”
    • “When do you notice it most?”
    • “Tell me about a time when it stopped you from doing something?”

All of the questions above can help open up a conversation about your pain. They’ll give your chiropractor a much deeper understanding of the impact it’s having on your day to day life. Don’t be afraid to tell it how it is- it’s more helpful than you might think to hear it described in your own words.

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Call us to schedule your appointment with our chiropractors: 01243 379693


Title image attribute: Pain by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images
Gif via: giphy

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