Asking the right questions about your pain

In order to manage pain in the most effective way possible, it is important to start by asking the right questions so that your healthcare team can get a really thorough understanding of your pain.1 These questions may include: 2

  • When and how did the pain start?
  • What does it feel like?
  • How intense is the pain?
  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms at the moment?
  • How does your pain affect your life? For example, this could be your mobility, the activities you do, and how well you sleep.
  • Current and prior treatments for the pain
  • Any similar episodes in the past
  • Your beliefs and expectations around your pain

Your doctor may ask these questions at your first appointment, but it may also be important to go over some of them again whenever there is a change in the nature or intensity of your pain, or if the treatments you’re given don’t help.1

Patient reporting tools

Since you are the one experiencing your pain, your doctor will often ask you to describe it. To help you do this, there are a number of patient reporting tools that can help:3


Visual Analog Scale

10 cm line with no pain at one end and worst pain imaginable at the other. Patient then asked to mark a point on that line that best represents their pain


Verbal Numerical Rating Scale

Patients are asked to imagine that 0 equals no pain and 10 equals the worst pain imaginable, then give a number that represents their pain


Verbal Descriptor Scale

Patients are asked to use words to describe pain e.g. none, mild, moderate, severe

You can find out more here about tools that can help you track your pain over time.

Physical examination and tests for people with pain

After taking a history, your doctor may want to also examine you physically. For example, if they suspect your pain is caused by a nerve injury (neuropathic pain), they may test things like your muscle strength, movement, coordination, and flexibility to help understand which nerve might be affected. They may also perform tests to see how you respond to different sensations, such as light touch, vibration, pinpricks, cold and warmth. This again may reveal abnormalities that help your doctor to understand which nerve has been damaged.4

Sometimes, further tests are required to diagnose pain. For example, a patient with back pain may need:5

Blood tests


CT or MRI Scans


  1. Mcintrye PE, et al. Acute Pain Management: A Practical Guide. 2021. Chapter 3. Section 2.1.
  2. Mcintrye PE, et al. Acute Pain Management: A Practical Guide. 2021. Chapter 3. Table 3.2
  3. Mcintrye PE, et al. Acute Pain Management: A Practical Guide. 2021. Chapter 3. to
  4. IASP. Diagnosis and Classification of Neuropathic Pain. Pain Clinical Updates. Sept 2010. 18(7).
  5. Moley P. Evaluation of Neck and Back Pain. MSD Manuals. Nov 2020.

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