Chronic pain changes many things, including what I like to call your “health language.” Everyone has a different way of explaining pain, and when you deal with chronic pain frequently, it changes how you describe your pain and how you describe various health problems and symptoms.
In part 2 of The Chronicles of Chronic pain, we will go over your ‘health language,’ some of the barriers between health care providers and chronic pain patients, the infamous pain scale, and some dos and don’ts of explaining your pain and relying on the pain scale to express how you feel.
The “Health Language”
You have probably already experienced this many times, and if you have, you have already dealt with pain comparisons, people’s lack of empathy, and the miscommunications that arise. Your pain language is not like anyone else’s for the simple fact no one else is experiencing your pain from your point of view.
Loved One’s Health Language
If you have experienced long-term chronic pain, one of the most frustrating parts is expressing how you feel or what you’re going through to a loved one. When you are having a bad pain day, it is hard to express yourself, and when you say your “not feeling good” or “you’re having a bad day,” you are diminishing your pain in their health language. Yes, you may have told them 1,000 times your back hurts, and they have heard it so much they ignore it when you say it, but when you diminish your pain, this makes them think it is okay to do so themselves.
Instead, try changing the wording or explaining the pain a little more. Instead of saying “my back is hurting today,” simple things like “my back is worse today than it has been in a long time” will change how they process what you’re saying. Sometimes it is hard, and no, you should never feel like you need to explain yourself to anyone, but translating for a loved one or friend who cares is a great thing to do. Not just so they will support you, but also so they can try to understand what your going through.
Pain CompetitionThere is a time in everyone’s life with chronic pain that the debate about “who hurts worse” occurs. There are two things we can do to stop this toxic conversation.
- Don’t indulge in it. If you say you have a backache and your spouse says theirs hurts worse (usually not that bluntly, but something like that). Don’t indulge in it. Pain is not a competition, and neither of you will win. Usually, both parties walk away feeling as if their loved one has diminished their pain in some way, whether that was your intent or not.
- Remember, everyone’s pain is different. We will further discuss this in the article, but it is essential to note this in the section for loved ones because maybe it will provide some insight. If your loved one has an injury, even just a pulled muscle, it is entirely new for them. It is a new pain, wherein a lot of chronic pain cases, we have been dealing with our pain for quite some time. This doesn’t mean their injury hurts more than yours; this is simply pointing out, they feel it differently, they react differently, and their pain tolerance will be different than yours.
Healthcare Language Barriers
You are an individual. Unfortunately, many healthcare workers treat you like you should fit directly into the textbooks they read from in school. If you have ever had a healthcare worker say something along the lines of “it shouldn’t be causing that much pain” or “you shouldn’t still be experiencing pain,” you have undoubtedly reached a point of rage when you have to explain that you are, whether you should be or not.
It is hard to consider that some healthcare workers are not diminishing your pain, but instead, they have only learned the pain language from a textbook or what the model patient has experienced. For this reason, I always prefer older doctors, even if the chances of you getting a doctor with the same medical diagnosis is rare. An older doctor may be more experienced in translating health languages and dealing with different types of chronic pain. No, this doesn’t mean they will understand your exact position, nor does it mean a younger doctor will not suit your needs or understand your pain. It all depends on the person, their compassion, and sometimes even your patience in dealing with them.
The Infamous Pain Scale
If you have been in a doctor’s office, urgent care, or ER in the last 10 years, you have seen the Pain Scale. Generally depicting the numbers 1 through 10, number one is represented by a smile, and number 10 is represented by a sad face. The scale is in every room, and unless you are in a very emergent, bleeding from the head, type situation you will be asked, “How do you rate your pain.”
The problem I have with this scale is not the scale itself but the execution of how they use the scale. If I go in with excruciating abdominal pain, I will rate it closer to a 7. I don’t think I have rated over a 9 in 10 years, including when I had children.
Why? Because my pain threshold is higher than most. So when Timmy Ten Toes is in the next room with a fractured pinky finger, and he rates his pain a 9, that does not mean he is in more pain, nor less pain, than I am in; it is different.
The flaw in the execution of the pain scale is simply the fact that my 9 and Timmy’s 9 are very different. The truth of the matter is, if I am in the ER, knowing that 9 times out of 10, I don’t receive stellar care because I have a chronic pain condition and I am pretty much told I should be used to it by now, my pain is excruciating. Even then, I would not be there unless I thought something was wrong that I needed help with.
The pain scale is flawed simply because it is used as a cookie-cutter way to rate the pain of a thousand patients who all deal with pain differently and have a different pain tolerance. In my humble opinion, I think they should just ask questions and judge the patient on what can be seen. Chances are they would see more than just what the number on the pain scale represents if they c.
Communicating Your Pain
It can be discouraging when you are trying to explain your pain, and you can’t seem to express exactly how you feel. Vocalizing how you physically feel is hard to do, even if you have to do it regularly. Here are some insider tips on communicating your pain and translating your pain language so more understand how you feel.
Don’t Get Discouraged
It is hard not to feel irritated or discouraged when you can’t get your feelings across; the more discouraged you get, the more complicated it is to rationally translate how you feel for others. Take a deep breath, sometimes if you have to take a minute to sort yourself out. It is far more essential for you to overexplain or take some extra time to voice how you feel than for you to get discouraged and stop.
Use Common Terms & Break It Down
Using common terms is important, even if you are explaining a condition. Not everyone will know the terms or complications your experiencing. Breaking it down is essential.
For instance, if you have back pain that makes your Sciatic Nerve Pain worse, it is more important to break it down into simpler terms. Saying Sciatic Nerve Pain is fine, but then explain. Worse lower back pain, sharp pain radiating down your legs, etc. This explains for someone who is not familiar with the term and describes how you personally are feeling instead of leading them to the textbook version of the Sciatic nerve pain.
Use Your Own Words
Chances are you are more well-versed in the health care terminology than most doctors, but using your own words to describe your pain is important. Doctors don’t want the Wikipedia description of your pain; they want raw, truthful details about how it affects you.
I feel silly telling someone it feels like I am being stabbed in the foot, but if that’s how you feel, that should be what you say. My favorite to explain is when I say, “It hurts to move like this” I always revert back to my old family doctor who used to say consistently, “then stop doing that,” and laugh like he had fixed my issue. Your pain language is different than others. No one has stood in your shoes and felt what you have felt.
Never be afraid to express yourself and use your personal pain language to communicate how you feel. If you run unto a doctor who refuses to try and understand you, you are not the problem. It is crucial to find a doctor who is willing to work with you and works to understand you.
Just as the standard treatment may not work for you, even a good doctor may not be the right doctor for you. Express yourself first and foremost and remember, the only thing that is wrong with you is your pain. Not how you express your pain or how you deal with it. We are all different and sailing in the same boat as far pain management and resources go. The more we show how different we are in dealing the pain, the more they will learn how different pain can be.
-The Un-Traditional Mother