We have full language for describing tastes and flavours or sensations or what we've seen. But when it comes to the vocabulary of describing a painful experience, we may be lost for words.
Some patients can be quite able to say, this is a sharp pain, or a stabbing pain, or a burning pain, or a throbbing pain, or a mixture of those pains. But other patients often say, "It just feels painful, doc." And I think one of the reasons we as physicians would like to know as much as possible about your pain experience, if you like, is of course because we can't feel the pain that you're experiencing.
So we have to use language as a medium of understanding what you are actually going through. So it's quite typical for a pain physician to do a very detailed sort of breakdown of what you're feeling, what does it feel like, what words would you use, what adjectives would you use to describe the character or quality of the pain. Is it constant? Does it come and go? Can you be free of the pain for a day or a week? What makes it worse? What makes it better?
We call this the pain rundown or the pain history, so that we're able to encapsulate in a little running order the characteristics that make up your pain experience. Now, obviously that's unique for every single person, and so we're really just trying to capture a snapshot of it, if you like, to see if it falls into a particular pattern or style that we recognise as pain physicians represents this condition or that condition.
So as physicians, we use a lot of what's called pattern recognition in terms of diagnosing the source of somebody's pain or the type of condition they have that's causing pain. And pattern recognition means we've heard this story 10 times, a hundred times, a thousand times before and it's always turned out to be X, or it's turned out to be a mixture of X, Y, and Z. So through that process, the more you can verbalise or describe to us what you're actually experiencing, I think the better we can connect as physicians with your own experience and then help guide you through what that means.
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