Questions to ask doctors about your pain

Man pointing to his back, doctor examining

When heading to an appointment with your doctor for an issue with pain, arriving prepared is critical to ensure all your needs and concerns are addressed. Arriving with an outline of what you hope to accomplish – along with your questions – help make your appointment feel more successful and less rushed. 

As doctors, it helps us to hear your story in your own words, allowing enough time to fully describe your experience. Hearing details about different treatments you have tried also helps us formulate an appropriate plan of care. 

Questions we ask about your pain

There are certain things we’d like to know regarding your pain. When we hear your description in detail, it opens a dialogue for both of us to ask further questions. To be prepared, arrive ready to answer these questions:

  • How long have you been in pain? 
  • Was there an inciting injury, or how did it develop? 
  • Where is the pain located 
  • How intense is the pain – how would you describe it?
  • When do you feel the pain most?
  • Is the pain taking a toll on your quality of life?
  • Do you have any weakness, numbness or tingling?
  • Are you experiencing bowel or bladder problems?

Consider keeping a pain journal

A pain journal can be very helpful, even more for you than the physician. It can help give you guidance on certain activities that might exacerbate your problem. Alternatively, it can also indicate which treatments you are trying that may seem to help the most. Keep track of the times you feel pain during the day, quality of pain and location, if you took medication (or other therapies), and if they provide any relief. 

Questions we ask about your history

It is important for your doctor to get a complete picture of your situation, including treatments you’ve previously tried, regardless of how long ago it might have been. Expect your doctor to take a good portion of the visit gathering a history of your complaints in order to get a good idea of what you are experiencing. If you felt a certain treatment in the past didn’t help, tell us about it. We want to understand why this might have occurred. 

Make sure your doctor does a physical exam – it’s critical in helping to identify the specific source of your complaint. Doctors should not rely solely on ordering imaging to guide them in developing a treatment plan. 

Questions to ask your primary care doctor

If you have yearly check-ups or screenings, your primary doctor may be the first medical professional hearing about your issue. If so, add these questions to your list:

  • If you send me to other doctors, what is your opinion of those you’re referring me to?
  • What are my options for various proposed treatment regimens?
  • What tests would you recommend and what tests should I expect?
  • Based on physical examination, is there anything that might be concerning, change the management or course of treatment?
  • If I’m offered medication, what is the proposed role of the medication in treatment?
  • What can I expect from the medication to get the best response?

Questions to ask your surgeon

If surgery is recommended, ask specific questions about the surgery to better understand what you will be going through. 

  • What would be my recovery timeline and expectation of healing?
  • To succeed in recovery, what can I expect concerning dedicated rehabilitation?
  • Will I have restrictions as it relates to work and lifestyle, such as lifting and overall mobility?
  • Are there complications I may experience?
  • What are the success rates of this particular type of surgery?

Questions to ask your pain specialist

When meeting with a pain specialist, make sure you understand what treatment plan is being recommended and why.

  • What are the goals of the intervention?
  • How does the treatment work with addressing possible underlying conditions?
  • What possible side effects might I encounter? 
  • Are there alternatives to the proposed treatment? 
  • What are the possible next steps if the results are not what I hoped for?

As the patient, you must take charge of your own health. This is of utmost importance to ensure you are obtaining the care you deserve. Being prepared for an appointment with any doctor will make you an integral part of the health care team.