Talking To Your Doctor About Pain

Chronic pain is notoriously hard to deal with — for both the sufferer seeking relief and the medical provider trying to alleviate a real problem that is sometimes difficult to pinpoint.

One critical issue, according to health reporter Judy Foreman, who just completed a book on pain, is that doctors are often woefully uneducated on the subject:

There’s a good, and obviously sad, reason why physicians know so little about pain: Medical schools don’t teach it. A major study of 117 medical schools from Johns Hopkins last year showed that out of all those years in medical school, med students get a median of only 9 hours of pain education. Even veterinary students get more. It’s high time Senators, Congressmen, medical school deans and other powers-that-be took this to heart.

Last year, hoping to gain a better understanding of how to better treat pain, a U.S. Senate committee held hearings on the topic. Now the Joint Commission, the a non-profit group that accredits hospitals and health care programs in the U.S. has created an animated video featuring little cartoon pain devils and urging patients to talk — specifically — with their doctors about pain. “Describing your pain to your doctor and nurse is important,” the narrator says. “Don’t tough it out.” Suggestions on how to deal with pain include traditional medications, but also acupuncture or massage. (No mention of medical marijuana here.)

Other advice to patients:

–Make sure their pain is assessed by a health care provider;
–Describe the pain they are experiencing to their caregivers;
–Take appropriate steps to alleviate pain instead of trying to “tough it out;”
–Ask their doctor or other caregiver about an alternative pain treatment if medication causes side effects; and
–Inquire about other methods for treating their pain, such as physical therapy, acupuncture or massage therapy.

Readers, is chronic pain finally getting the attention it deserves? How does your doctor deal with your complaints of pain? Are you taken seriously? Prescribed medication without much discussion? Or are you made to feel you should just suck it up?

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  • painedout

    Pain management has took a step back 20 years. Now government has got involved in how our doctors are prescribing medication. I suffer from chronic pain. In 2012 my primary decided to stop doing pain management and refer his patients to pain clinics because of the new regulations. This year has been terrible. All I’ve learned is to keep my mouth shut! Don’t complain because you are looked at as if you are drug seeking. Pain clinics are trying to make up for lost revenue by doing other interventional therapies. I’ve tried injections before and now they want me to do it again when it didn’t work the first time. I thought I was functioning well on my meds. At least I was able to function. Now I can’t enjoy my grand children or my flower garden. I can’t turn my head because of a bad fusion. Now I can barely lift it. This is pain management reality.

  • Really upset

    Last time I heard about pain from my primary, he said they were told not to give “old people” pain meds because they would get dizzy, fall & break a hip & it was too expensive to treat broken hips.
    That beats about all I’ve heard.

  • Pissed off Mom

    Unfortunately my 13 yo walked around (barely) with a migraine headache for a year and was repeatedly turned away from the emergency room as “we can’t do anything for you”. Finally we found a pediatric neurologist who’s specialty is migraine and within 2 days of inpatient care at the local children’s hospital, my daughter was finally pain free. I can’t understand how this is okay

  • Patient

    The worst part is that my doctor has come to believe that because I don’t have rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and/or hypothyroidism I therefore don’t have pain and fatigue, which therefore can’t affect my ability to work and exercise! I’ve been told twice that I must be “depressed”: when I went to a psychoanalyst/psychopharmacologist to find out if I was in fact depressed without knowing it (or being sad) he found no evidence of that. Meanwhile it’s almost 6 years since I began the search for a diagnosis, and I have no idea where to turn now. My doctor is a good person who’s known me a long time–this isn’t a case of snotty-nosed recent grads with attitude. Please consider an article about physicians and clinics in the area who specialize in diagnosing pain!

    • korian

      I went thru the same searching for diagnosis as you. Turned out I had Fibromyalgia. Find a good Rheumatologist and ask them about it. Took me years to find that out, hopefully you’ll get your answer soon.

    • Pastor Bob

      all doctors are taught that patients who say they are in pain must be a “drug seeking” patient. They ignore the signs, symptoms, your complaints, and even lab results. This leads to misdiagnosis, or delayed diagnosis, and some patients are often ignored to death. Unfortunately, this is common everywhere. Not just at your small home-town hospitals, even world-famous hospitals with hundreds of physicians, specialsists, radiologists, etc. can overlook something as important as cancer just because a patient says they are in pain. The Joint Commission knows about this. They have a case that they should have learned from back in 2007 through 2010. Too bad they haven’t shared their knowledge to prevent other physicians and medical facilities from making the same mistake.

  • Marie

    My experience is that describing pain is difficult (kind of like, describing color). I might say that something feels like a big pinch, which to them means, not a lot of pain while to me it feels like a really painful pinch.

    Also, my doctors often focus on relieving the pain rather than fixing its source. I fortunately don’t have chronic pain but I have learned that pains in my body are signals and indicators of something going on.

    I suppose it can leave doctors feeling helpless when they can’t do anything, but it is important for patients to know that this is a necessary conversation and they need to push through that (as opposed to pushing through the pain).