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How to Create a Pain Diary That's Easy to Keep and Actually Useful

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What Is A Pain Diary?

A pain diary is a daily record  you keep for yourself detailing the nature and levels of the physical or emotional pain you are experiencing.

Why would you want to keep a record of your pain? Chronicling pain sounds like one of the least appealing things you could do.

Yes, I know, but there are a number of reasons why it can be very helpful for people with chronic pain to do so. Read on.

Why Keep A Pain Diary?

Here are some valuable reasons for making the effort (sometimes painful, I know) to monitor and record your pain experience:

To provide credibility about the nature and level of your specific pain(s) that you can show to medical practitioners and therapists, particularly if they have difficulty understanding the intensity or duration of your pain.

To provide important details for your physician about how your medication is working or not working, and any side effects.

A pain diary can be helpful to share with caregivers so they can better understand your needs.

Tracking your pain levels helps you see when your pain tends to be most intense so that you can plan rest, appointments, and work accordingly (at least as much as is possible).

A pain diary helps you more clearly see which activities affect your pain levels for good or ill.

Sometimes these records are useful for insurance or legal purposes.

OK, you say, I can see some of the uses for a pain diary, but how do I go about creating one that’s easy to keep, easy to refer to, and actually useful?

How To Set Up Your Pain Diary

Here are some simple guidelines that have worked for me. Modify as needed, of course.

Plan to keep the diary for at least one week, but longer is highly recommended if you’re up for it (since it provides more information over a longer time span).

Use a small notebook that’s easy on your hands and a
felt tip pen or other writing utensil that’s easy to use and writes clearly.

At the top of each page write the date.

Make notes on pain at least four times a day, if at all possible (upon waking, mid-day, afternoon, evening) and note specific times.

At each check-in time, note your overall pain level, and any specific pains and their levels, noting changes in pain quality or intensity.  Use descriptive words (see list below for ideas.) If things are pretty much the same, just write “Same.”

In addition to the above, in the first notes of the day, jot down how much sleep you think you got and the quality of sleep: Did you sleep fitfully, or not at all, or only doze now and then, or get up in the night?

Keep It Clear And Simple

If you only have energy for the minimum of four check-ins a day, do that.

For a more complete diary, and if you want to track the efficacy (and side effects) of medication and/or the effects of physical therapy protocols, then I suggest adding the following into your daily notes as well:

  • Medications taken and at what times.
  • Any exercise and physical therapy you do, the time you did them, and duration.
  • Note periods of rest.

Keep it simple so that doing this does not become a burden. These are notes, rather than an old-fashioned Dear Diary description of everything you do and feel. (I recommend a separate Pain Journal if you wish to go more deeply into what you’re feeling and experiencing.)

  • Use phrases instead of full sentences.
  • Use highly descriptive words (see suggested list below).
  • Use the 1 – 10 scale consistently, and in a way that makes sense to you so that you can easily communicate it to others.

Sounds like a lot, but you can use shorthand. For example, if you have a regular routine of physical therapy exercises you do, just write PT and the time. No need for further details.

The following lists of descriptive words are offered to make it easier for you to express yourself and help you find the words you need. The lists are not meant to be exhaustive, but I hope they show that descriptive words communicate much more clearly to others than just the words pain or hurt do by themselves.

Physical Pain:
sharp, dull, twinge, sting, shooting pain, tender, irritated, raw, spasm, pulling, cramping, needle-like, achy, stabbing, throbbing, burning, numb, tingly, tight, sore, queasy, flu-like, dizzy, fatigued, exhausted, listless, light, deep, intense, excruciating, brain fog, easing, releasing, letting up.

Emotional Pain:
low, depressed, angry, despondent, frustrated, hopeless, hopeful, numb, scared, terrified, anxious, confused, stuck, sad, lonely, isolated, ashamed, resentful, sinking, uplifted, tense, relaxed, relieved.

If you are keeping a Pain Diary of physical pain, it’s up to you whether or not you want to add your emotional state into your notes and how comfortable you feel sharing that with others.

Remind Me Why I’m Doing This

Why not just explain all this verbally the next time you see your doctor? Mostly because our brain in pain doesn’t work well: we often can’t remember details, the right words don’t come easily, we’re exhausted, we can’t think straight, and we used up all our available energy just getting to the appointment.

If the Pain Diary sounds challenging to set up, feel free to download my Pain Diary PDF. You can print it out and write on it or use it as a basis for your own and modify as needed.

I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to share this post and the template with others.

Lead photo courtesy of Pixaby

Originally published: November 7, 2018
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