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Planning for your GP Trip: Six Steps to Understanding your Pain

by Lee Dover(more info)

listed in medical conditions, originally published in issue 258 - November 2019

It’s one thing to go and see your doctor. It’s quite another to be able to accurately describe your pain. After all, we all have different pain thresholds, so describing the intensity alone can be difficult. But it is important to be able to describe your pain clearly and accurately to your GP, particularly if you’re suffering ‘invisible pain’ or conditions like fibromyalgia. This is so you can avoid any issues such as repeat appointments and misdiagnosis.

This guide will highlight the six areas of understanding that can help you describe your pain clearly, and therefore reach a quicker diagnosis and treatment.


Six Steps to Understanding your Pain


Step One: What Type of Pain do you Have?

Pain is difficult to ignore in any of its forms. From a dull ache to a sharp pain, it can get in the way of your life. But it can be frustrating to try and communicate this effectively. So, the first step is to understand and identify what type of pain you are enduring.

Pain falls under two main categories:

  • Acute – acute pain tends to be short term. It usually expresses itself as a sudden or severe pain that lessens over time;
  • Chronic – chronic pain doesn’t ease with time and can linger for months. This is a recognised medical condition.

Within acute and chronic types of pain, there are a number of subcategories. These can help label and identify your pain more effectively when describing your issue to your GP:

  • Neuropathic pain concerns nerve injuries. This type of pain can be hard to identify unless you have experienced it before. Carpel tunnel syndrome pain is an example of neuropathic pain;
  • Visceral pain affects the internal organs. Gallstone pain is a type of visceral pain;
  • Radicular pain travels down the nerve paths of your body; it ‘radiates’. Sciatica is an example of this;
  • Myofascial pain manifests as muscle pain. This can cover a range of examples, including simple muscle injuries;
  • Somatic pain is caused by pain receptors on the surface of the body (skin) or in the musculoskeletal tissue. Cuts and grazes are a type of somatic pain.

Step Two: What Triggers your Pain?

Once you have an idea of the category your pain falls under, the next step is to identify what triggers it. Triggers can range from:

  • Certain foods;
  • Irregular sleep patterns;
  • Anxiety and stress;
  • Temperature.

Step Three: How Intense is your Pain?

Pain intensity differs from person to person. The best way to describe it would be to use a basic pain level chart. These charts usually go from 1–10, with 10 being unbearable amounts of pain. A rundown of a basic pain scale would be:

  1. No pain; Hardly noticeable, such as a mosquito bite;
  2. Minor pain;
    1. a.      Self-test: pinch the skin between your thumb and index finger with your fingernails. This is considered minor pain.
  3. Noticeable, but tolerable. An injection or accidental cut would fall under this level of pain;
  4. Strong pain, such the first stages of a bee sting, or stubbing your toe;
    1. a.      Self-test: pinch the skin between your thumb and index finger very hard with your fingernails. This is considered strong pain, as it spikes initially then dulls;
  5. Strong pain, such as a sprained ankle. At this stage, you notice the pain all the time;
  6. Strong, piercing pain that starts to interfere with your ability to think. A non-migraine headache would be an example of this;
  7. Pain at this stage is potent enough to impact your ability to think for half the time. An average migraine headache would fall under level 7;
  8. The pain at this stage is so intense you cannot think clearly at all. Over long periods of time, this type of pain can change your personality. Childbirth or a severe migraine can fall under this category;
  9. At this point, the pain is so severe that you are willing to undergo any surgery or medication, whatever the risks or side effects;
  10. Pain that will shortly render you unconscious. The pain at this level is what causes you to black out, not the loss of blood from an injury. As such, it is rare, and most people have never experienced pain this potent.

Step Four: When does your Pain Happen, and how Long does it Last?

With the category, trigger, and level gauged, it’s time to track the pain. This can help you monitor when it is happening, and how long it lasts in each flare-up. There are apps available to help you do this, which could be particularly useful for chronic pain sufferers. Alternatively, you could just jot down the time, duration, and intensity on a notepad.

Step Five: Can you Treat your Pain at Home?

At-home pain relief can help you manage the pain until your doctor’s appointment. For a recent injury, try the RICE method:

  • Rest;
  • Ice;
  • Compress;
  • Elevate.

This will help to reduce any swelling.

Of course, there are also a range of over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories available. These include aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. Be sure to read the instruction before using.

Step Six: Communicating your Pain

Prior to your doctor’s appointment, it’s best to know what you’re going to say. The previous five steps ought to help you outline this. Doing this will help ensure you don’t forget to mention a specific trigger or time the pain may occur, for instance, which may be crucial for diagnosis. Even if you don’t see how it could be, mention it!

If you have tracked your pain on an app or simply on paper, show your doctor this. You should also mention any at-home treatments you have tried. It’s important to tell your doctor this as medication can linger in the blood longer than you may realize.

Understanding your pain is the first step to combatting it. With our six-step guide, you’ll be in a much better position to communicate your issues to your GP, and to help yourself along the road to recovery.


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About Lee Dover

Lee Dover BA (Hons) is a senior copywriter at Mediaworks with an interest in sports as well as researching into healthier ways of living. He has a BA (Hons) in Magazine Journalism. Away from work, Lee is also a keen runner and is an athlete and coach for Houghton Harriers & Athletics Club. Since joining the club in 2015, Lee has competed in various road, track and cross country competitions - on a regional and national scale. Highlights of his running career to date include his victories at the 2017 Lambton Run 10K and the 2018 South Shields 10 Mile race. You can follow his progress on Twitter via the handle @leedover1. He may be contacted via

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