4 Tips for Talking to Your Doctor About Pain Management as an Older Adult
Describing the complexities of aches and pains as we age can be challenging, especially in the doctor's office setting. But the reality is, you need—and deserve—relief. Answering commonly asked questions like, “How would you describe your pain” or “How would you rate your pain on a scale of 1-10” may paint a vague picture but hardly dive into the intricate details that would best help your doctor with the next steps in helping you feel better. Let’s discuss some tips for communicating and ensuring your doctor takes you (and your pain) seriously.
4 Tips for Talking to Your Doctor About Pain Management
Keep a health journal
In the hustle and bustle of daily life, we often forget which day we experienced which symptom—so when we’re sitting in an exam room, and our doctor asks when the pain first occurred, we may respond with a blank stare. But by keeping a health journal, or symptom log, where you can list information from the kind of pain or symptom, frequency, duration, and sensation, you can provide more in-depth information to allow your doctor to treat you more holistically. This way, if your appointment falls on a day you aren’t experiencing the pain you’re being treated for, you’ll be able to show your doctor you are struggling, even if not today at this very moment.
Learn how to communicate your pain in detail
Pain levels, durations, and triggers can all be hard to dial in on as the one experiencing them, but communicating them clearly to your doctor can be an even bigger challenge. Here are some things to keep in mind when communicating your unique pain to your doctor:
- There are two types of pain: acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain is like your body sending you an alarm signal that says, “Something’s wrong here.” Acute pain is typically caused by an injury, infection, or illness and can embody feelings from sharp, shooting, stabbing, throbbing, or stinging. In other words, for a pneumonic device that might help you in the exam room, there is nothing “cute” about acute pain—it comes on hard, fast, strong, and really, really hurts.
Chronic pain, on the other hand, may occur often, daily, or recur for weeks, months, or even years. This pain can be mild to severe and is typically more of a dull, throbbing, burning, or aching sensation. Chronic pain is recurring pain that doesn’t subside over a longer period of time.
- Be specific when describing your pain. If the pain radiates down the back of your leg, don’t just say “yes” when your doctor asks, “Is it only in your lower back?” Try to give as many details as possible—from locations to the types of sensations to frequency, duration, and more—so your doctor can grasp the breadth of the pain you’re experiencing.
Adjectives are your friend.
Because there are so many variations of and ways to express pain, dialing in on exactly what and how you feel is paramount to finding relief. With this in mind, many experts suggest reading up on all the many adjectives at your disposal to connect to the type of pain you’re experiencing. For example, a “piercing and pinching pain in my lower left abdomen after eating gluten” paints a more accurate picture than “I often feel stomach pain after dinner.” Don’t be a stranger to using thesaurus.com if you need more ideas on how to accurately describe your pain.
Advocate for yourself.
If your doctor does not adequately respond to your concerns or treat your pain effectively, don’t forget to be your own best advocate. Some ways to advocate yourself if your doctor is not taking your pain seriously or providing relief:
- Get a second opinion from another provider.
- If you have a trusted, mutually-respectful relationship with your doctor, express your concerns openly and honestly to seek realignment and understanding.
- Ask for a referral to a specialist who may be able to take a deeper dive into the symptoms you’re experiencing.
- If your doctor pushes back on your request for any labs or treatment, kindly ask them to document their refusal in your file.
While personality styles and treatments from doctor to doctor vary greatly, it still may take some extra research to find a provider who best aligns with your values and desired type of treatment. For example, some prefer to treat pain holistically or naturally, whereas others prefer pharmaceutical relief. Regardless of how you wish to be treated for pain, access to pain management, according to the World Health Assembly, is an ethical duty of healthcare professionals. That’s why our doctors at Chen Senior Medical Center are trained to manage your pain the right way. If you are not currently a patient and want to learn more about our VIP care, call a center near you and take a tour.