Talking to your health professionals about chronic pain

Summary

  • Talk to your healthcare providers about the topics that are important to you. Good communication with your healthcare providers helps to create a shared understanding of your treatment goals and challenges.
  • It will help your healthcare providers to help you if you tell them as much as you can about your pain, your personal situation and strategies you have tried.
  • Talk to your healthcare providers about setting realistic pain relief and activity goals to develop your own pain management plan.

To improve your experience of living with chronic pain it is important you work with your doctors and other healthcare providers to develop a strategy that works best for you.1

People with pain often report that they get the most out of the relationship with their healthcare provider when the provider:2

  • demonstrates genuine concern,
  • listens to their concerns and story
  • facilitates access to the care they need
  • shares decision making about management.

Open communication is key

For many people with chronic pain, having a sense of collaboration and trust with their healthcare providers is important. An open dialogue creates the basis for common understanding of treatment goals and challenges.2,3

The more you tell your healthcare providers about your pain, your personal situation and what strategies you have tried to manage your pain, the better. This will help them tailor a management plan to suit your individual needs.3

Be prepared

Our Chronic pain communication tool can help you to identify any issues you'd like to talk about with your health professional. You can create a summary of everything you'd like to address, print it out or save it as a PDF to take along to your next consultation.

Also, consider the answers to some questions your doctor may ask to help understand and manage your pain4

About your pain

What is your pain like?
What brings the pain on?
What other symptoms do you get when you have pain (such as sweating, heart racing, tremor)?
What medications and treatments have you tried?

Functioning

How does your pain affect your ability to look after yourself?
How does your pain affect leisure activities?
How does your pain affect your ability to work?
How does your pain affect your relationships and role in your family?

Mood and sleep

How does your pain make you feel (scared, frustrated, anxious, depressed)?
How is your mood most of the time?
How well do you sleep?
What are you afraid of when you have pain?

Your goals

What would you like to see happen?
What would you like to be able to do?

Develop a personal pain management plan

To help with self-management, it is useful to develop your own pain management plan with your doctor.5,6 Your plan could include setting step-by-step achievable goals to give you something to aim for.6,7

Goals should cover different aspects of your life:7

  • Physical goals – based on how long you can exercise for and how difficult the exercise is.
  • Functional/task goals – focused on achieving everyday living tasks such as housework or hobbies or work.
  • Social and emotional goals – covering moods, relationships, family life and work.

Examples of topics that could be covered in your personal pain management plan8

  • Exercise
  • Activity management (eg, pacing of tasks)
  • Cognitive therapy to help you think more positively about your ability to manage your pain
  • Behavioural management (eg, relaxation)
  • Medicines management as needed

Use your pain management plan as a communication tool

Your plan will be unique to you and cover different aspects of your life and your pain, so your healthcare professionals need to have a good understanding of your medical, psychological and social situation to develop an effective approach with you.5-7

Your plan will change over time and be updated to meet your needs. Take a copy of your plan with you each time you visit a health professional involved in helping you manage your pain. Be proactive and highlight the goals you have reached, or any problems you have faced.

Some tips to help1

  • Booking a longer appointment can allow you more time to discuss your pain management options.
  • You may wish to take a family member, friend or carer with you.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about setting realistic expectations of pain relief along with improvement in activity.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about the goals that are important to you.
  • Take some information with you if there are specific topics you want to discuss.
  • Tell your healthcare team what type of pain treatments you have tried, including herbal remedies, nutritional supplements and vitamins.9

Find out more

References
  1. University of South Australia. Chronic musculoskeletal pain: Helping to solve the pain puzzle (March 2014). Adelaide: Department of Veteran's Affairs, 2014. [Online] (accessed 28 April 2015)
  2. Upshur CC, Bacigalupe G and Luckmann R. "They don't want anything to do with you": patient views of primary care management of chronic pain. Pain Medicine 2010;11:1791–8. [Pubmed]
  3. Tveiten S and Knutsen IR. Empowering dialogues--the patients' perspective. Scand J Caring Sci 2011;25:333–40. [Pubmed]
  4. Canterbury District Health Board. Diagnosing chronic pain. 2014.
  5. Vargas-Schaffer G and Cogan J. Patient therapeutic education: placing the patient at the centre of the WHO analgesic ladder. Can Fam Physician 2014;60:235–41.
  6. Moore P and Cole F. The pain toolkit. [Full text] (accessed 24 April 2015)
  7. Harding V and Watson PJ. Increasing Activity and Improving Function in Chronic Pain Management. Physiotherapy 2000;86:619–30.
  8. Turk DC, Wilson HD and A. C. Treatmnent of chronic non-cancer pain. Lancet 2011;377:2226-35. [Pubmed]
  9. Emerging Solutions in Pain. Fact sheet 13 Communication among the pain Management team. Pennsylvania, US: 2008.