Last week, we discussed pain levels from a personal perspective. This week, we'll investigate how to describe different kinds of pain - again from a personal perspective.
When you go to the doctor's office, (s)he may give you a chart or ask you to describe your pain. Many of those charts will contain the following list (or something very similar): ache, sharp, burning, stabbing, throbbing. These adjectives are usually enough for those who occasionally experience pain, but if you live with chronic pain, describing that pain can be more complicated. It's okay (and probably more helpful) to give a detailed description of your pain to your doctor.
For example, when you tear soft tissue, like cartilage or a ligament, initially, it's a severe, intense sensation like scissors were used to cut something inside your body. (It's a feeling you never forget and will recognize if/when it happens again.) Over a few minutes, the severity of the pain diminishes to a strong feeling of pressure. Depending on where the tear occurs, mobility of a limb may be partially or totally impaired, but by the time you get to a doctor, you may only feel a mild ache (or no pain) at rest, and moderate to severe heaviness, pressure, and/or tearing pain with motion or weight bearing.
Nerve pain, like sciatica, can feel like a blowtorch is shooting down your back into your butt and/or leg(s). That pain may start suddenly or gradually and may be fleeting or last for hours/days/weeks/months. Other nerve pain may feel like you're being pricked with a thousand pins or like you're being seared with an iron bar fresh out of a forge.
Bursitis may feel like a foam-filled balloon is stuck in your joint and is trying to explode - the pressure moves from the center outward. Blocked Eustachian tubes or an ear infection may have a similar sensation.
Breaking a bone feels like a combination of an initial snap followed by the sensation of a molten iron poker being stuck in the bone. Unlike a soft-tissue tear, it takes days for this intense pain to subside.
These are just a few examples from my perspective. You may have different descriptions for similar conditions -- it's important to give your doctor as accurate a picture of your pain as possible. For more serious pain, that description should go beyond ache, sharp, burning, stabbing, throbbing.
Next week's blog will delve into the scientific perspective of pain - its purpose, how the body knows to "feel pain", and how the pain signals are sent through the body.