Describing pain


Many people don’t like to complain about pain. However, it’s important to report any new or worsening pain so that doctors can find the most likely cause and recommend the best way of managing it.

Tips for describing pain

When describing pain, try to give the healthcare team as much information as possible.

Some people find it helpful to keep a diary, noting the times of the day when pain gets better or worse.

What to consider when describing cancer pain

Question What to think about
Where is the pain?
  • Is it in one part of the body or more?
  • Does it start in one place and spread during the day?
What’s the pain like?
  • What words best describe the pain?
  • Is it a dull ache or throb?
  • Is it a sharp, stabbing pain?
  • Is it more like a burning feeling or pins and needles?
How bad is the pain?
  • How does the pain compare with pain you have had before – for example, period pain, headache, a sports injury or childbirth?
  • How would you rate the pain on a scale of 1–10 (where 10 is the worst pain you can imagine)?
  • Does the pain keep you awake or wake you up at night?
Does anything make the pain get better?
  • Do you feel more comfortable if you sit or lie in one position?
  • Does a hot water bottle or ice pack help?
  • Does the pain get better if you take a painkiller like paracetamol?
  • Can you distract yourself with music or a good book?
Does anything make the pain worse?
  • Does it hurt more if you are moving around or sitting in a particular position?
Is the pain there all the time?
  • Does the pain come and go?
  • Is the pain worse at night?