September 30, 2014
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Pain Management

 Health Home >> Pain Management >> Understanding pain 


Pain assessment

The assessment and treatment of pain hinges on good communication between you and your doctor. You are the one who knows your pain best, so it is important for you to communicate the characteristics and severity of your pain honestly and accurately. Sometimes the cause of pain is obvious (e.g., a burn or cut), but many times some detective work is needed to determine the cause.

To assess your pain, your doctor will ask you questions about the pain. The information you provide may help determine the cause of your pain or which tests should be performed to further investigate the cause.

Questions that your doctor may ask include:

  • When did the pain(s) start? When the pain started was it at its worst or did it gradually get more severe?
  • Where is the pain and does it travel anywhere else in the body?
  • What does the pain feel like? Is it dull, sharp, aching, piercing, shooting, burning, tingling etc? Is the pain constant or intermittent (comes and goes)?
  • Is there anything that makes the pain feel better or worse?
  • How bad is the pain? (The best way to measure your pain is to use the same measurement tool each time. There are many ways to measure pain using words, numbers, and colors. The one that is most commonly used is the numerical pain scale.)
  • What have you tried already to relieve the pain and how well did it work?
  • How is this pain affecting your daily life? Are you able to do everything you want to do despite the pain or do you greatly reduce your activities or stay in bed to reduce the pain to a manageable level?

Your doctor may also perform a physical exam to help determine the cause of pain. By pressing on certain areas of your body or moving your joints, the source of pain may become more evident.

If your doctor is not sure of the physical cause of your pain, further testing may be suggested. Your doctor may suggest blood tests, urine tests, X-rays, MRI, or a CT scan. For more information on these tests, visit our tests and procedures database.

Your doctor will also assess for psychological causes of pain. Since pain often has an emotional component, it is important for your doctor to assess this.

With the information you provide and findings from a physical exam and possibly other tests, your doctor may be able to determine the cause of your pain so that together you can develop an effective treatment plan.


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