The importance of tracking your pain
Many folks with chronic pain feel helpless to do anything about it. One important way to gain control over your pain is to record it. This helps you to see what increases or decreases your pain, as well as to learn what times of day tend to be more pain than others.
I had a client who had pain that made everything difficult. She loved to garden, and sometimes would force herself to go out and garden no matter how much pain she was in. She could grit her teeth through it some days, but other days she didn’t want to have the battle and stayed in, feeling guilty for letting her pain control her. She felt defeated and didn’t know how she could live her life anymore.
I suggested she track her pain levels several times a day for a week. When we met again we look at her pain levels and saw a pattern. Some times of the day were regularly more painful for her than other times. We decided she would give herself permission to not garden during times that were typically painful for her, such as mid-morning, because she knew that around 1-2pm her pain was lower and she could garden then. By learning more about how her pain worked, she was able to live her life more fully than she had been.
If you think recording your pain will be a chore, remember: you’ve done your best in your current circumstances, and you still haven’t been able to effectively control your pain. You’ve got nothing to lose by trying it, and something to gain if it works. The more knowledge you have about something, the more you can master it.
Here is a Pain Notebook put out by the American Pain Foundation that has lots of information on it, and includes several days of forms for tracking when your pain is present and rating how intense it is. You can chart in it as frequently as every hour, but I’d suggest writing in something once or twice in the morning, once or twice in the afternoon, and once or twice in the evening. Make a few copies and track your pain for a few weeks. It won’t take long before patterns start emerging that will be useful to you. This will also be invaluable to your doctor, bring a copy in to him or her as well.
How do I describe my pain to my doctor?
One other benefit of the Pain Notebook is it will also teach you how to communicate with doctors and nurses. Have you ever tried explaining your pain to a medical professional, and it just seems like you can’t make them understand your pain as well as you’d like? It’s because they are trained to think of pain in certain terms, such as acute, chronic, breakthrough, and pain flares. Here are some brief definitions:
- Acute pain: comes on suddenly, usually from an injury or surgery. It can usually be treated and lasts for a short period of time.
- Chronic Pain: lasts beyond the usual healing time for an illness or injury. It can last from months to years. At times it can go away completely, or it can remain constant. There are different types of chronic pain.
- Intermittent Pain is episodic. It may occur in waves or patterns. Mild-to-moderate intermittent pain is often treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), adjuvant medicines, and nondrug therapies. Moderate-to-severe intermittent pain may be treated with short-acting opioids (strong pain medications)
- Persistent pain lasts 12 or more hours every day for more than three months. It is usually treated with medicine that you take at specific times every day so that you get pain relief throughout the day. Moderate-to-severe pain may be treated with opioids
- Breakthrough Pain comes on quickly or “breaks through” the medicine you are taking to relieve your persistent pain. It can occur many times during the day. This type of pain can be treated with specific medicines used as you need them to get quick pain relief
- Pain Flares are short-term increases in one’s usual level of pain. This pain suddenly erupts or emerges with or without an aggravating event or activity
- The difference between breakthrough pain (BTP) and pain flares: with BTP, pain emerges from a state of analgesia (pain relief) in which pain medications are already being used. Pain flares are periodic increases in your usual level of pain that can occur independently of using pain medications.
If you start tracking your pain and communicating your pain and its patterns to you medical professional team, you’ve already started down a road that will help you manage your chronic pain better. Pain medications can certainly help, but there are many things you yourself can do to help as well. One option is therapy, and I can provide treatment in learning to help you manage your pain and take back your life. If you live locally I can meet with you in person, if you live elsewhere I can do video therapy with you.
Another option is self-help. There are lots of books out there, but perhaps the best is Managing Pain Before it Manages You, now in it’s 4th edition, by Dr. Margaret Caudill. It is pretty comprehensive, it’s been proven by rigorous research to work, and I like to use it to help those who come to me for therapy as well.
Mindfulness and meditation practices can be very helpful in the management of pain. For those who favor mindfulness-based solutions, I have two suggestions. The first suggestion is a book, The Mindfulness Solution to Pain, by Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix. The other is an audio CD (also available digitally), Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief, by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. If there is one person who is a guru for mindfulness and meditation in America, it’s Jon Kabat-Zinn. He was one of the people who first brought this practice to the US, decades ago, and in my opinion he’s one of the top five experts in the world.
I hope this has been helpful to you. Do yourself a favor and don’t procrastinate. Do something today, even if it’s small, that will help! Please don’t hesitate to Contact Me or click here to learn more about chronic pain treatment and my practice.