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Keeping a Pain Diary

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Developing the best pain control plan depends on being able to give your doctors and nurses a detailed description of what you're feeling, where, and when. You can do this by keeping a daily record of your pain, either in a notebook or on your computer. Begin by listing all of your pain medications, their dosages, and how frequently you are taking them, along with any other prescription or non-prescription medications you are taking. Each time you feel pain, record the following:

  • the date and time
  • where in your body you feel pain
  • what the pain feels like (achy, dull, sharp, shooting, stabbing, spasm, etc.)
  • the intensity of the pain (on a scale of 0 through 10, with 0 being no pain at all, and 10 being the worst pain imaginable)
  • how long the pain lasts
  • what activities are associated with the pain (what activity is making it worse or better, and when it flares or lessens)
  • name and amount of any medication you took to relieve the pain and whether it worked
  • any other pain relief strategies you tried besides medication and whether they worked
  • other notes about the pain you think are important

If your doctor changes any of your medications, their dosages, or frequency, just record that in the diary and resume your entries as before. Do the same if you start or stop taking an over-the-counter medication on your own.

Typing or writing down this information will be much easier than trying to remember it during an appointment or phone call with your doctor. Regular diary entries will help you and your doctor assess your pain, identify patterns, and evaluate how well medications or other treatments are working.

A diary also may help you feel more in control of your pain: Even if you can't control what is happening in your body at that very moment, you are taking action in a way that will help you get the relief you need. If you choose to share your pain diary with your closest family members or friends, you can help them understand exactly what you are going through — and how they can assist you best. For example, if you tend to experience pain at a certain time of day, such as very early in the morning or at the dinner hour, you might plan for family members or friends to come over and help as needed.

You may want to print out this sample pain diary (PDF) for keeping track of your pain, or use it as a basis for creating your own.

Questions to help with describing your pain

The more information you can give your doctors and nurses about the pain, the better equipped they will be to help you. These questions may help you to describe your pain more fully, both in your pain diary and during office visits.

  • Where does it hurt? Does it start in one place and stay there, or does it move around to other spots?
  • What does it feel like? Is it sharp, dull, hot, cold, aching, throbbing?
  • Did some event seem to bring on the pain? For example, did you move suddenly, change position, or reach for something?
  • How bad is the pain, on a scale of 0 to 10?
  • If the pain level tends to change, how bad is it most of the time (on a scale of 0 to 10)? At its worst? At its best?
  • How long does the pain last? When does it start? Is it constant, on-and-off, fleeting, the same throughout the day, or worse at a particular time?
  • What makes it get worse — a certain position or movement, particular foods, lying on a hard surface, cold or rainy weather, feeling upset?
  • What makes it get better — a particular position, time of day, medication, or non-medication strategies, such as relaxation or stretching techniques?
  • Do you have any other symptoms associated with the pain, such as sweating, anxiety, heart palpitations, depression, or insomnia?
  • How does the pain affect your daily life? Is it keeping you from certain activities you need to do or want to do — such as childcare, work, sleeping, eating, walking, exercise, etc.? If so, which ones?

Visit the Talking to Your Doctors About Pain section for more information on how to most effectively communicate with your doctor or team.

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