Some tips for explaining your pain to your physio


Some tips for explaining your pain to your physio

Pain is something we have all experienced, yet precisely describing our pain to physiotherapists and doctors can still be a challenging task. Pain symptoms are personal, changing and subjective.

What Mary describes as “10 out of 10 pain” may be considered “pretty bad pain” to Jessica.

For those battling the invisible pain caused by fibromyalgia, complex regions pain syndrome, or chronic pain after cancer treatment, accurately conveying the location, frequency and depth of the discomfort can be particularly challenging.

What is pain?

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as:

“An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”

For a patient, pain is normally the reason they see a physiotherapist. For the physio, pain is one of the indicators we use to get to the root cause of your ailment.

Acute pain is sudden and serves a useful biological purpose and activates the sympathetic nervous system in a way that makes diagnosis easier and more accurate.[3]

Chronic pain or Persistent pain is one of the most difficult issues faced by healthcare professionals and can be caused without direct injury to a particular area in the body and can be concocted by the brain. [4]

The pain scale

No Pain

0 – Pain-free

Manageable Pain

– Pain is very mild, barely noticeable.

2 – Minor pain with occasional stronger twinges.

3 – Pain is noticeable and sometimes distracting from activities.

Moderate Pain—Disrupting normal daily living activities

4 – Moderate pain that can be ignored for a period of time, but is still distracting.

– Moderately strong pain that can’t be ignored for more than a few minutes, but you still can work or participate in regular activities.

6 – Moderately strong pain that interferes with normal daily activities. Difficulty concentrating.

Severe Pain that reduces daily quality of life

7– Severe pain that significantly limits your ability to perform normal daily activities or maintain healthy sleep.

8– Intense pain where physical activity is severely limited and thinking and conversing requires great effort.

9– Excruciating, crying out in agony pain. Unable to converse.

10– Unspeakable pain. Bedridden and mobility may be compromised.

How do I describe my pain to a physio?

All of your pain and experiences are real and valid.

Before arriving to your appointment and while pain is present, try monitoring your pain using a diary and writing questions for your physio as they pop into your head. Nothing is worse than getting to the end of your appointment and realising that the question you have been meaning to ask your physio has completely slipped your mind.

Ask yourself:

  1. Is the pain recent or ongoing?
  2. Where does it hurt?
  3. What does the pain feel like?
  4. When does it happen?
  5. How bad is the pain?
  6. What makes it feel worse?
  7. What makes it feel better?
  8. What activities does it disrupt?

My Pain Feels Like…

Sometimes there might not be one word that describes your pain perfectly, but here are some you can try and use:

Aching, burning, dull, hot, intense, numb, piercing, pinching, radiating, sharp, shooting, spasms, stabbing, tender, tingling and throbbing.


Most of the time, people experience one or two consistent pain “feelings” but some can experience a range of sensations.

The most common pain types are:

  • Sharp stabbing pain
  • Extreme heat or burning sensation
  • Extreme cold
  • Throbbing, inflamed tissue


I hope some of these strategies can help you communicate about pain more effectively with your health professionals. If you’re interested in booking an appointment with us at Lane Cove Physio, give us a call on (02) 9428 5772 or book online at