We all know it hurts, but how do you tell your doctor just how you feel so they understand it? Assuming the first thing you’re going to tell your doctor is where it hurts, the next thing you’ll be asked is to describe the pain. The type of pain you feel, how often it occurs and the severity of your pain can all be key factors your doctor needs to evaluate your condition.

There are many ways to describe pain.

  • How does it feel?
  • How intensely does it hurt?
  • How often does your pain occur?
  • Initially, most people have a hard time putting it in words, but when you really concentrate on the pain, you should be able to tell what the pain feels like. For example, does the pain feel

  • Dull
  • Sharp
  • Aching or Throbbing
  • Squeezing
  • Burning
  • Cold
  • Numbing
  • Tingling (Pins & Needles)
  • Other (this list could go on and on and on…)
  • Often, patients confuse the type of pain with the intensity or severity of the pain. Many think that it the pain is sharp, this means the pain is severe. A dull-aching pain being more mild. The quality, or how a pain feels and the severity of the pain are totally different. Think about taking a baseball bat and pressing it lightly into your lower back. That would feel dull aching in quality and mild in intensity. Now, think of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson taking all of his weight and all of his strength and pressing that baseball bat into your lower back. The feeling is still dull and aching, but now the intensity is severe. The same is true for sharp pain. Thinking about a sharp knife that is lightly pressing into your right shoulder. Obviously it feels sharp, but it’s a mild sharp sensation you are feeling. Now imagine someone taking that sharp knife and stabbing you in the shoulder – you are now feeling a severe, sharp stabbing pain. So any sensation can be mild, moderate, severe or anywhere in between.

    I created this chart to better help my patients tell me about the intensity and frequency of their pain. If you walk into our office, you’ll see it sitting on the reception desk:

    If you’re guided through the process of describing your pain properly, you should be able to tell the difference and communicate this with your physician. A typical pain scale is graded from 0 –to-10, where 0 is no pain at all and 10 is the worst possible pain. Most physicians will either ask or as we do, we have the patient actually click the number on a visual scale in our electronic medical records program. Basically it looks something like this:

    (No Pain)0 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 (Worst Possible Pain)


    Even though I tell people how the scale works on their first visit, they often get it backwards and I find myself re-educating them on how to rate their pain intensity. Here’s pretty much how the 0-to-10 pain scale works:

    Pain Grade

  • No pain at all. No pain during any activity.
  • Slight / mild pain
  • Mild pain
  • Pain that is more than mild but less than moderate
  • Pain that is mostly moderate
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