Writing a pain journal can help your doctor understand your pain and provide the best treatment.
Seeing a doctor is the first step toward living life without pain. You may be on medications or other treatments, and they may be falling short. If this is the case, it is likely your doctor doesn’t fully understand when you are experiencing pain, how it is occurring, and to what degree it is affecting you.
There is only so much that can be expressed in a few minutes at the office, and it’s nearly impossible to cover your life’s daily ailments in those few minutes. Your doctor may suggest that you keep a pain journal, or you can take the initiative on your own. This may help your doctor figure out what is causing your pain and when it is most likely to bother you.
Only when you record what you do everyday and how your pain affects you will your doctor be in the best position to treat you. That being said, be vigilant in jotting down the right information at the right times.
Knowing how to keep an effective journal is crucial to moving forward in your treatment, but your doctor may not explain it completely. In following these guidelines you can be confident that you are showing your pain who’s the boss.
- Buy a new notebook
- Use it just for pain entries, no shopping lists
- Take about 10-15 minutes at the end of each day to write everything down
- Try not to get obsessed with your pain
- Bring your journal to every doctor appointment
Include each of these items every day:
What did you do?
Write about what you did that day and note the duration of each activity. If you exercised, describe what exercises you did. This can help to localize your pain. If you were at work, describe your duties. Were you at your desk all day, or were you lifting boxes? This can help to pinpoint occupational hazards that might be attributing to your discomfort. Were you sitting on the couch watching TV for half the day?
When did you feel pain?
For each activity you took part in, note if you felt any pain. Some things you do will cause pain, and some things won’t. Your doctor needs to know which activities give you the most trouble.
Rate your pain.
You get this question whenever you go to the doctor or hospital, so chances are, you know how to rate your pain. Use the pain scale for each entry. Don’t leave out how you felt when you woke up in the morning and throughout the night.
Describe the pain.
After rating your pain, be more specific. Where was the pain on your body? Was it throbbing? Stabbing? Dull? How long did the pain last? Did your next activity help or make it worse?
Talk about your medications.
When you felt the pain, did you take any medication? What did you take? When did you take it, and how much? Did it make you feel better, and if so, how much pain did it relieve? What side effects did you notice? Include over the counter medications like aspirin or cough syrup.
What other pain remedies did you use?
Did you use a heating pad or muscle cream? Did you wear a brace or use crutches? Did you soak in a bath or use a cold compress? List any/all of these at-home pain remedies, and note what did or didn’t work.
Did your pain limit your activities?
Was there anything throughout the course of that day you didn’t accomplish as a result of the pain you experienced? Were you supposed to go grocery shopping? Did you call in sick to work? Write it all down.
Reflect on your day.
Talk about your day as a whole. Was it an easy day or a rough day? How did you feel emotionally? Is there anything you didn’t mention that your doctor should know? This is essential in order to gauge your overall well-being. While you may have pain that rates at a 9 or 10 at some point during the day, you may still feel like it was an easy day. Let your doctor know how each day impacted your overall life, and how you feel about it.
The bottom line on writing in a pain journal
It is important to keep your pain diary detailed, even at times of no pain at all. Sometimes you may not have pain for days, but you should still keep your journal current. Even if you don’t have time to write details for the entire day, write something. Something is better than nothing.
Your doctor can use your journal to identify your triggers, what medications seem to be working (or not working), and exactly what kind of pain you are feeling. Sometimes, in the most inane details, conditions can come to light that may have otherwise been overlooked.
It is also important to not become obsessed. Write in your journal a minimum of once a day, at the end of each day, and limit your writing time. Patients can become overly compulsive in tracking their pain, which could lead to unhealthy emotional disorders, and make the pain worse.
Keep a good handle on your pain management, but don’t allow yourself to get overly dependent on thinking about pain all day.
Talk to your doctor about customizing your pain journal specifically to the needs of your treatment. Not everyone’s pain journal will be the same, just as not everyone’s pain journey is the same. Ask your doctor what may or may not work most effectively for you in keeping a personal journal. Lastly, never use the information to try to diagnose, treat, or medicate yourself without the direction of your doctor.