One could argue that it is possible to divide the world into two categories: those who like to journal and those who don’t. Some people are naturally drawn to expressing themselves through writing, and truly enjoy the act of reflecting and recording, while others simply don't. But for those of us who struggle with chronic pain, whether we consider ourselves a fan of journaling or not, the fact is that keeping a daily pain diary can be beneficial for many reasons.
This article will explain why you might consider keeping a pain diary as part of your chronic pain management strategy. Furthermore, for those of us who aren’t really "into" writing down our feelings and experiences, there's good news! There are several different ways to keep a pain journal. We’ll give an overview of the options so you can pick the method that works best for you.
What is a Pain Diary?
Although the term pain diary seems relatively self-explanatory, some people (especially those who don’t experience chronic pain) might not be familiar with what it is or why it is used.
Like a regular diary or journal, a pain diary is used to record daily information and experiences. It differs from an everyday diary, however, in that the focus is on pain — how it felt, when it happened, what caused it, if any treatments helped, and so on. There are lots of reasons why someone might document this type of information, the big reasons being: to identify trends, remember details about triggers and symptoms, and to communicate more effectively with their health provider.
There are different types of pain diaries. Some people use a pad and paper, while others use a pain management app.
Benefits of Using a Pain Diary
There are lots of benefits to keeping a daily pain notebook.
- You can monitor your mental health in relation to your chronic pain. If the pain you’re experiencing is causing you emotional turmoil, you should be able to easily see this when you look back over several weeks or months’ worth of recordings (which might motivate you to talk to someone or get additional help if needed).
- It will help you to communicate more effectively with your doctor. Armed with valuable information about episodes, symptoms, triggers, and side effects will make it easier for you to converse with your healthcare provider. You may even find that your physician might treat you with a little more compassion and understanding. At the very least, having it all written down will allow you to explain everything with more clarity.
- It might uncover your pain triggers. For instance, someone who suffers from migraines might realize that caffeine is a trigger after they review several weeks’ worth of entries and realize that they drank caffeinated soda or ate chocolate prior to each migraine.
- It will confirm which therapies and treatments are working the best for you.
- You will find out if anything has changed in terms of your pain level or condition and if any patterns have emerged. From day to day, it all blends together. Looking back, it’s easier to spot changes or trends.
- You might conclude that you need to adjust your medication and/or when you take it. The recordings in a pain medication diary can assist you in keeping track of what medication you’re taking and at what intervals.
- You might determine that you’re suffering from side effects, whether they be from medications or your condition itself. If you are dealing with this, you’ll be aware and can get the help you need to resolve this.
- It will empower you by giving you more control and knowledge about what’s happening to you and what you’re feeling. By documenting what you’re experiencing, you are taking charge and proactively doing something to improve your life.
What Should You Record?
You might be wondering exactly what information you should include in your pain diary. Below is a list of ideas for each of our entries:
- Date and time. Note that it’s not advisable to make a note every single time you feel any type of discomfort or pain. Not only would this be too time-intensive but may also cause you to become overly focused on any and all negative sensations. Instead, it’s recommended that you choose between one and three scheduled times a day to document your thoughts (1) and then stick with that. If you do, writing journal entries will also become more of a habit.
- What has happened since your last entry.
- The location of your pain.
- The duration of your pain.
- How intense or severe the pain felt. Rate the intensity on a 1-10 scale with 1 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever experienced.
- The frequency of the pain.
- An accurate and detailed description of your pain. Use words like throbbing, stabbing, sharp, dull, and achy to describe what you felt.
- How your mental state was during the pain episode. Record any emotions you felt during this time (like frustration, anger, or helplessness).
- If the pain was bothersome enough that it disrupted any regular activities (like working, sleeping, socializing, or exercising).
- Possible triggers that you believe may have caused the pain to occur.
- Any lifestyle changes or occurrences that might have impacted your pain. Examples include your diet, weight gain/loss, or sleep.
- Any medications you’re currently taking and whether they have helped to alleviate your symptoms or not. Also, include any recent changes in these treatments.
- If you’re taking part in any pain management non-drug therapies (2) and whether they have offered you any relief. Some examples might include mindfulness, meditation, massage, acupuncture, or yoga.
- Any actions you took that made you feel better (like moving around, stretching, or taking a shower).
Different Types of Pain Management Journals
Not everyone loves the idea of carrying around a pain notebook and scribbling into it every day. Luckily, there are several different options when it comes to pain diaries. At least one method is bound to work for you.
Like nearly everything else out there, there are now online pain management apps that can make recording your pain episodes a breeze. From The Pain Diary (a color-coded pain app that makes connections between pain flare-ups and events) to Painscale (an app that allows you to log symptoms and generate reports for your doctor) and numerous others, if you prefer to quickly type and swipe your observations into your phone a few times a day, you can definitely do this. The online app alternatives are vast. So if this is your preference over a traditional diary, download one today and give it try.
A Final Word From Lin
It can be challenging to deal with recurrent pain. Starting a pain diary, whether in a regular notebook or using an online app, is a simple step you can take to improve your wellbeing. When you document details about your pain episodes in a structured manner on a daily basis, you’ll be better equipped to answer questions when you visit your doctor and may find it much easier explain what you’ve been experiencing. These notes will also give you more control over what’s been happening, perhaps opening your eyes to patterns, potential triggers, or treatments that you weren’t aware of previously.
Contact us today at Lin and we’ll pair you with a caring health coach who will work with you to design a tailored care plan to help you find pain relief. Bring your pain journal along too! All of your recorded information will assist us in helping you overcome and conquer any chronic pain you may be experiencing.