It had to come from somewhere. Whether it’s a pulsing throb or a shooting dagger. Whether it’s in your neck or your lower back. Whether it’s consistent or intermittent. There must be a specific cause that led you to the doctor.
However, once you’re in your physician’s office, there’s a good chance that you’ll become flustered. Without giving much context, you’ll just say, “It suddenly showed up” even though you and your doctor both know that’s not true. Studies show that only 21% of patients think that talks with their doctors went well. There are many reasons for this—not the least of which is poor bedside manner—but you need to fight the urge to quickly summarize.
Even if you think a pain is sudden, there is most certainly a cause. A good doctor will spend time getting to know you and the cause of your pain. Your job is simply to tell your story.
Pain is subjective. One person can never know exactly what another person’s pain feels like. So, particularly when you’re talking with your doctor, it’s important to describe your pain in a way that will give him or her the best picture possible of what you’re experiencing. Feel free to think this through ahead of time and write it down. Your doctor will appreciate that you’re telling the whole pain story.
Here are some tips to ensure that your doctor learns everything about your pain story:
Start at the beginning. Don’t just talk about when you first felt the pain. Go into detail about any stress you placed on that part of the body or recent changes to your daily routine. If nothing has changed, talk about any routines that may affect that part of the body and how long you’ve been doing them.
Use concepts such as timing, pace, the onset of symptoms, severity, and changes over time. These are key to arriving at your diagnosis and will come through naturally if you tell your story from the beginning.
Provide your doctor with context tied to other events. Don’t worry about remembering exact time and dates as much as what was going on in your daily life. Understanding the context can help you and your doctor identify factors that make your symptoms better or worse.
Describe the impact on your life. Your doctor’s office will ask you to quantify the pain in an objective way. That doesn’t tell as much of the story as whether you had to miss school or work.
Share your impressions with your doctor as you go along. Your initial reaction and self-diagnosis play roles in the development of the pain. If something about your symptoms surprised you, emphasize it.
Use simple language. Don’t try to use medical jargon. It confuses your doctor if you use it incorrectly.
Share your concerns. Let your doctor put you at ease. Don’t forget, there’s a mental component to pain too.
Don’t forget that communication works both ways. You should always find a doctor whom you feel that you can trust and who will listen to you. A two-way conversation about your health is the only way they will make the correct diagnoses and treatment recommendations.