Talking to Patients With Acute Pain:
A Conversation Guide
Pain can be a complicated topic to discuss with patients. Patients may have difficulty describing exactly what they are feeling and may not understand why they are being prescribed one form of pain therapy over another. Giving patients a better understanding of acute pain and how it can be treated may be key to more accurately treating their condition.
The following is a guide for an in-office, patient-friendly conversation that may give patients with acute pain a better understanding of their condition, leading to more constructive conversations and potentially better treatment success.
What are patients with acute pain feeling?
Asking questions like the ones listed below may help patients describe their pain.
Can you tell me where it hurts?
On a scale of 0 to 10 (with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain possible), how would you rate your pain?
What does your pain feel like?
Is it sharp or dull?
Does it sting, burn, ache, or stab?
Is it numb or tingly?
- How long have you been experiencing this pain?
- What makes your pain better? What makes it worse?
Does your pain interfere with any daily activities (such as work, exercise, eating, or sleeping)?
Has your pain changed in intensity? If so, when did it change? What may have caused it to change?
What treatments (ie, prescription, over-the-counter, topical, physical therapy) have you already tried for your pain?
Have you had any tests done, for instance, x-rays, or an MRI?
Explaining acute pain to patients
Acute pain is an experience that varies from person to person. Only you can describe what it feels like and how much it hurts. That’s why it’s so important for you to describe your pain in as much detail as you can. That will help me treat your pain in the best way possible.
How pain is felt1,2
Pain signals travel from the injury site via nerve pathways through your spinal cord to the brain
When your brain receives these signals, you feel them as pain
Your body then tries to reduce the pain by sending signals from the brain back down through the spinal cord
Although your body tries to naturally reduce the pain, the body has its limits. Pain medications can help the body to enhance pain relief.
Educating patients on the basics of pain treatment
Two of the more common types of medications used to treat acute pain are nonopioids (such as NSAIDs and acetaminophen) and opioids (drugs that work on opioid receptors). There are also other types of treatment that do not involve medicine, such as physical therapy and/or rehabilitation.
Encourage patients to take an active part in their treatment
Please be sure to keep in touch with me. Let me know immediately if your pain worsens or if you find that your treatment isn’t working. Also, notify me right away if you think you are experiencing any side effects (such as nausea, constipation, dizziness, headache, and/or any others).
Call me right away or get emergency medical help if you:
- have trouble breathing, or have slow or shallow breathing
- have a slow heartbeat
- have severe sleepiness
- have cold, clammy skin
- feel faint, dizzy, confused, or can not think, walk or talk normally
- have a seizure
- have hallucinations