317 St. Francis Dr. Suite 350
Greenville, SC 29601


317 St. Francis Dr.
Suite 350
Greenville, SC 29601
Tel: 1-864-235-1834, Fax: 1-864-235-2486

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The Problems of Describing How Chronic Pain Feels

The Problems of Describing How Chronic Pain Feels.

It can be difficult to describe your own experience with pain, but self-reporting is one of the most important ways of diagnosing chronic pain conditions.

One of the most difficult aspects of getting a diagnosis and appropriate treatment when you suffer from chronic pain, is the difficulty of expressing how the pain feels. Your doctor will inevitably ask you to describe your pain, and may offer suggestions such as burning, stabbing or aching to help you pinpoint the type of pain you are enduring. However, pain can be so variable, and the experience of it will be unique to the sufferer, so very often you may struggle to find the right words to describe what it is you’re feeling. It’s like trying to describe the peculiar noise your car is making to your mechanic – they will ask you if it’s a grinding, or a squealing, but you know it’s not really either of those. The solution is for the mechanic to take your car out for a drive and listen for the noise themselves, but when it comes to sharing your pain, your doctor can’t experience what you’re feeling.

Using analogies to describe pain

Even people with the same clinical conditions can experience their pain in different ways and at varying intensities, so although there are characteristic types of pain for each condition, not everyone will have the same experience. It can be immensely frustrating trying to convey what your pain feels like, and it can lead to the use of some inventive analogies. For example, an arthritis patient may say it feels like their joints are full of ground glass. No-one knows what that would actually feel like of course, because it isn’t something that happens in reality. However, it does give an indication of the quality of the pain, if you can imagine what it would feel like to have ground up glass in your joints. Using such analogies can be helpful, as they will give your doctor more information on the type of pain you are suffering than simple adjectives, so it’s always worth trying to describe your pain in analogous terms.

Research into pain diagnosis may help in the future

Research into chronic pain, its diagnosis, causes, and treatments, is ongoing all over the world, and due to the ever-increasing numbers of people affected with some form of chronic pain, the investment in pain research is increasing too. In May this year, Australian neuroscientist Professor Mark Hutchinson announced a breakthrough in the identification of the presence of chronic pain by using a specially developed blood test. This test uses tools that measure light to identify the molecular structure of pain in the blood cells, leading to the discovery that persistent, chronic pain affects the colour of immune cells. Thus by analysing the color of a patient’s blood sample, it is possible to quantify whether they have a chronic pain condition. This might sound exciting at first, because if there was a test that proved you were in pain, you’d no longer need to worry about convincing anyone.

Diagnosing pain at Piedmont Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

This research is a long way from becoming routine practice in Australia, and would likely take longer still to be adopted in the US and other countries. This is because the science needs to be tested exhaustively to prove it has a significant enough success rate to be approved. As Professor Hutchinson has noted himself, this test should not be seen as a substitute for self-reporting, as it cannot define the precise severity or quality of pain in each unique individual. So you still need to keep thinking of ways to describe your pain as clearly as possible. In the meantime, here at Piedmont Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, we are experts in the science of medical thermography, which uses an electronic infrared imaging device to measure the body’s skin temperature and identify causes of sympathetic nervous system abnormalities. With a more precise and detailed diagnosis, the most effective treatments can be utilized to aid in your recovery and the alleviation of your pain.