Assessing your pain

To decide what to do, your doctor needs to assess you. The assessment of your pain will vary according to the type of painful condition and whether you are visiting your general practitioner or a specialist clinic.

It is important to distinguish between acute and chronic pain. Acute pain is pain present for a short time, which is a symptom of an underlying disease or injury. Knowing the characteristics of the pain will help your doctor to diagnose the cause. Although pain-relieving medication may be used, the main treatment for the pain will be to treat the underlying disease.

Chronic pain persists for months or years, although it may be episodic (come and go). It may not be possible to find the underlying cause, or the cause may be known, but cannot be fully reversed by treatment. In this case, the pain serves no useful warning function. It becomes an illness in itself and needs to be managed differently.

Doctors have a number of tests and techniques they can use to try to understand what your pain is like, how it is affecting you, and what its possible cause may be.

Your doctor may use some or all of the following tools to assess your pain.

  • History
  • Pain diary
  • Pain scales
  • Physical examination
  • Tests and procedures to check for underlying causes
  • Other pain assessment tools

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