Why I Started a 'Pain Diary' (and Why I Think You Should, Too)


What is a pain diary?

A pain diary is used to monitor levels of pain over a long period of time and collect data on possible triggers for that pain. It might sound very clinical and scientific, but — think about it! If you have a pain condition that changes over weeks or months — and especially if you’re on heavy medication, you aren’t going to remember what your pain was like on June 27! This means that it might be more difficult to decipher what triggers your pain.

Science is the way forward! What do scientists do when they are trying to answer a problem? Collect data!

Why do I need a pain diary?

While it might not seem all that useful straight away, over time, you build up a profile of your pain. You learn what your triggers are (so you know to avoid them). Triggers might be things like… not getting enough sleep, or maybe you did too much physical activity one day. Your doctor or health professional will also be able to monitor any side effects medications might be causing or if any adjustments are needed to your medication. It’s also good to see how your pain develops over time with different treatments like physiotherapy.

Where can I get one?

There are a load of different pre-existing apps for your phone — some are free, others you pay for. I didn’t bother with any of these because they didn’t give me everything I wanted. I found it much easier just to make my own pain diary on Google Sheets. Yep, spreadsheet time, people! Here’s my basic pain diary template to get you started. Just save a copy of it into your own Google account.

How does it work?  

It’s very simple (honestly). You record your pain levels in the morning, afternoon and evening. You don’t have to do it this many times a day, but the more data you collect, the more knowledge you (and your doctor or specialist) have on your condition. You can use this information to spot trends and patterns in your pain. Also, you might find your pain is worse in the morning or you might find that it’s a little higher in the evening…

You can record other things (which I also highly recommend — data is knowledge is power!) like:

  • the dosage of your medication (especially if it changes a lot over months)
  • how many hours sleep you had
  • how much physical activity you did (again, you can give this a numerical rating system if you like)
  • whether or not you went outside that day
  • your mood (use a rating system between one and five: invent your own!
  • include any other columns you think are relevant – this is your diary, your journey in pain

I also put another little column in there for any notes like: Attended physio today, also to give descriptions of the pain, i.e. “shooting pains” or “stabbing pains” etc.

Here’s what mine looks like (I was a bit naughty that month and didn’t record my hours sleep!):

If you’re more of a cell phone kind of person, there are lots of great apps out there for different health conditions. I’m sure some people can mention ones that they use in the comments.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images.

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