A step-by-step guide to understanding your own pain before visiting your GP


To prevent repeat appointments and misdiagnosis, it’s important that you understand as much as possible about your pain before you head to the doctors. Tracking when the pain occurs, identifying triggers and learning how to describe the feeling can lead to a faster diagnosis – but where do you begin?

Step 1: Understanding the type of pain

There’s no denying that pain is an unpleasant sensation which is hard to ignore. It can be felt in a range of ways and be caused by a variety of factors. Because of the broad definition of pain, it’s important that you understand as much as possible about your own pain to help you describe it to others.

The first thing to understand is that there are two types of pain, these are acute and chronic. Acute pain is short term and is often felt as a severe or sudden pain that eases with time. Opposite to this is chronic pain, which is persistent and can last for months – this is a recognised condition.

Do you know the source of your pain? Your pain typically falls under one of the following categories:

  • Neuropathic pain (nerve-injury)
  • Radicular pain (pain travels down the path of the nerve)
  • Somatic pain (caused by stimulation of pain receptors on the surface of the body or in musculoskeletal tissues)
  • Myofascial pain (a type of somatic pain, associated with muscle pain)
  • Visceral pain (relating to the internal organs)

Take note of the next steps to be able to categorise your pain more accurately, better understand the cause, and find a treatment with the help of your GP.

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Step 2: Identifying triggers

Your environment can cause pain without you even realising so it’s important to understand your own triggers. Identifying triggers can help you avoid them in the future and learn how to deal with them. You might find that your pain is associated with the following:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Temperature change
  • Inflammatory food

Step 3: Determining pain intensity

Being able to measure your pain intensity allows you to recognise when it gets worse and the potential triggers of this. A basic pain level chart is usually a scale of 1 to 10 that ranges from no pain to moderate pain to the worst possible pain. You can find a detailed explanation of each stage of the scale here.

Step 4: Tracking your pain

There are apps out there to track your pain, such as CatchMyPain which allows you to draw the location and intensity of your pain on a model, track happiness and fatigue along with other features. Or, you might decide to create your own diary in a notepad. For this idea, just remember to make note of:

  • The date and time you feel the pain
  • How long it lasted
  • Location of the pain
  • Intensity of pain
  • Any potential triggers
  • Any treatment you used

Step 5: Can you treat it at home?

Have you considered treating your pain at home? Of course, if a pain persists, it is always best to seek medical advice. If it’s a painful injury that you’ve recently incurred, try the RICE method as soon as you can. This stands for rest, ice, and compress and elevate and this technique works to keep swelling down.

You can also purchase over-the-counter anti-inflammatories which include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. They work well to treat muscle pain and inflammation injuries such as sprains or to relieve shoulder pain. Always read the instructions before administrating medication yourself though.Medication that has few serious side effects include gels, creams and sprays that are available from supermarkets and the pharmacy. These work by relieving the pain orally and are often used to treat muscle, tendon and joint pain.

Also Read: When you shouldn’t ignore your back pains

Step 6: Knowing what to say

It’s a good idea to prepare what you want to say before you head to the doctors. This way, you don’t forget to mention a specific symptom and reduce the risk of a misdiagnosis. Show your doctor your pain tracker and have bullet points prepared that you can discuss – this could be triggers that you’ve identified and any treatments that you’ve tried at home.

Getting to know your pain is the first step in treating it. Follow our 6-step guide and try to find the best treatment for you and your needs.