Control your pain by working with your health care provider

Have you been dealing with chronic pain? If you have, then it might be time to see your health care provider, if for nothing else, just to touch base and communicate. First of all, it’s important to know when pain is chronic. Generally, chronic means that you have had the same pain for at least 3 months or longer. It’s also especially important to make an appointment if your chronic pain has been getting worse. But seeing your health care provider is only part of the solution – talking with him or her is most important. After all, you’re the person in pain. Only you can explain how much of an effect pain is having on your life. Health care providers can’t help you reach the right goals without this important information.

If you need to see your health care provider because of chronic pain:


    • Try to get ready in advance for your visit.
      • Think of any questions that you might have for your health care provider. Write them down, and bring this list with you to the appointment.
        • Put these questions in order, with the most important ones at the top of the list.
        • Ask these important questions at the start of the appointment, not at the end.


    • Make a list of all the medications that you take, or have taken, for your pain.
      • Include the name(s) and dose(s) of each medicine.
        • It may be easier to put all of your prescription and non-prescription medications in a bag, and bring this bag with you to the appointment.


    • Ask a family member, close friend, or caregiver to come to the appointment, especially if you don’t think that you’ll be able to answer all of the questions on your own.
      • This “extra set of ears” can also help you remember what was discussed at the meeting, and what the health care provider said.


  • Your health care provider might want to know the answers to some of the following questions:
    • Write down your answers in advance, and bring them with you.
      • Are you using any herbal supplements, vitamins, or over-the-counter medicines or pain relievers right now?
      • What health problems are you having right now?
      • If you’ve seen this health care provider before, have there been any changes in how you’ve been feeling since your last visit?
      • Do you see any other health care providers?
      • What are their names and phone numbers? Remember to include specialists like chiropractors, or people who do acupuncture, massage therapy, etc.


Decide what’s important when it comes to managing your pain. Think about your answers to the following questions before you get to the appointment:

  • How long have you been in pain?
  • When did it start, and what do you think caused it?
  • What kind of effect does pain have on your life?
    • Does pain keep you from doing things that you like to do? What types of things?
    • Does pain keep you from going to work or school, or getting together with family?
    • Does it change how you act with your loved ones and/or friends?
    • When you’re in pain, what makes the pain worse? What makes it better?
    • Does it affect your sleep?
    • Does it change what you like to eat or when you eat?
    • How has this pain changed your life?
  • What would you like to have happen when your pain is treated?
    • Do you hope that all of your pain will go away?
    • Can you live with some pain?
    • Are your goals realistic?
    • Can you give up some daily activities if it means that you’ll have less pain?
    • What’s most important – doing the things that you need or want to do, or feeling less pain?
    • What types of treatments are you willing to try?
    • Are there any treatments that you’d want to stay away from?

Think about any other information that you can give to your health care provider, to make him or her understand how this pain feels to you.


  • Your health care provider may use opioid (narcotic) medications to treat your pain. These medications are controlled substances; by law, they have to be carefully handled. You and your health care provider need to trust each other for your pain to be treated with this type of medication.
    • Before any opioid medication is prescribed, your health care provider must know if you have any history of substance abuse with alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. If you don’t share this information, you could be given the wrong type of medication.
    • Be honest! If your health care provider thinks that you’re lying, or not telling the whole truth, you may not be allowed to try this type of medication to control your pain.


  • When taking medication, follow all of the directions that your health care provider gives to you.
    • Take your medication when you’re supposed to.
    • Don’t take more than your prescription says. You will likely NOT be able to get early refills for an opioid medication.
    • Keep your prescription pain medications safely locked up in your home.
    • NEVER share your prescription pain medications with anyone else.
    • Keep a pain diary to track your pain and pain levels throughout the day, and remember to bring this diary to each appointment.


  • You and your health care provider are BOTH responsible for making a pain management program work:
    • You have the right to have your pain treated.
    • Your health care provider should respond to your honesty with respect, care, and thoughtfulness.
    • Your health care provider should check your pain levels regularly, to find out if your treatment is working (or not working).
    • Your health care provider has the right to keep an eye on your use of controlled substances: This may include asking you to have random urine tests.
    • Always follow your health care provider’s instructions when taking opioid medications. Feel free to ask questions, but don’t argue about dosages or types of medications.
    • Tell your health care provider if you’re afraid that you might become addicted to any medications that are being prescribed for you. You are NOT the first person to be worried about this issue.
    • Ask your health care provider where you can get good information about your pain condition. He or she will have better sources for information than you would get from searching the Internet on your own.

Try to see the management of your pain for what it is: a team approach between you and your health care provider. And you’re the most important member of this team! Help your health care provider to help you, by being open, honest, and trustworthy. Together, you should be able to find a solution that handles your pain and still lets you enjoy life.