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How to Effectively Describe Back Pain With Your Spine Surgeon

Doctor inspecting patients spine

Back pain is often one of the most reoccurring problems people face today, but many doctors experience difficulties in pinpointing the cause of the back pain, which often results in misdiagnosis and improper treatment plans that only work to subside the symptoms, but not understand the cause. Medical advancement has led people far in terms of healthcare, but because of the limits imposed by what technology can do, properly diagnosing the issue involves a consecutive effort between both patient and doctor to find the right treatment. For those who have been through the trial and error process, it can be frustrating. One essential aspect to note about back pain is that everyone experiences back pain differently, and the same treatment plan can work for one person, but not another.

In these cases, it’s important to articulate your pain with the most accurate words possible. By describing this pain to your doctor or spine surgeon, they will have a clearer frame of reference to work off of and will become more effective at giving you the best treatment plan with the most positive outcomes. To effectively describe your pain, use these tips to help you best describe your pain.

Establish a Foundation For Your Pain

Many doctors use the 1-10 scale to determine the severity of the pain. However, many doctors tend to lack clarity on what those numbers mean, especially on an individual scale. When first describing your pain to your doctor, inform them of how those numbers correlate to your pain. For instance, apply a scale of 1-3 for milder cases of pain, and if you’re more sensitive to pain, then use any number above 4 or 5 to indicate your pain tolerance. If you have higher pain tolerance, use a scale of 1-5 for mild pain, and anything above 6 or 7 to indicate more severe pain.

Incorporate the LOCATES Pain Scale

The LOCATES scale helps patients accurately describe pain, along with other varying symptoms and sensations associated with the pain. This system is an acronym for the following:

  • Location – Where is the pain felt? How does it travel? Is it isolated, or does it spread to other parts of the body?
  • Other Symptoms – Do you experience other symptoms alongside pain, such as weakness, fatigue, nerve pain in the knuckles, etc.?
  • Characteristics of Pain – This aspect of the scale is most commonly misunderstood because the character of the pain is the most accurate description of pain. Use adjectives such as throbbing, sharp, dull, aching, and hot to describe the pain to the best of your ability.
  • Aggravating/Alleviating Factors – Determine what makes your pain worse, and what makes it feel better. Inform your spine surgeon of what medication you’ve been taking to give your surgeon a better idea of your pain.
  • Timing – How long does the pain last? Is it constant, or infrequent?
  • Environment – What activities do you normally do that causes the pain to occur?
  • Severity of the Pain – Rate the pain on the 1-10 scale you’ve established with your doctor, and use adjectives to describe what those numbers mean.

If you’re experiencing back pain, and are seeking a better source for treatment, then contact Dr. Diana Wilson at the Neurosurgical and Spine Consultants, located in Fort Worth, TX, to schedule a back pain appointment today.

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