Keeping a Pain Diary

by Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate

You may have noticed that I sometimes recommend keeping a pain diary. Basically a pain diary is a daily log that tracks your pain intensity as well as medications, therapies and other activities that may impact your pain.

The pain diary can be a very useful tool in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain. There are a number of different reasons for keeping a pain diary:

• Diagnosis - Charting when and where your pain occurs, how badly it hurts and what makes the pain worse can help your doctor pinpoint the source of your problem.

• Treatment - A pain diary is an excellent way of tracking the effectiveness of a new medication or therapy.

• Triggers - A pain diary can help both you and your doctor identify activities and stressors that may trigger or increase your pain.

• Credibility - If you're willing to take the time and go to the trouble of charting your pain, your doctor will usually be more apt to take your pain seriously.

It's not necessary, or even desirable, to keep a pain diary every day of your life from now on. Once you have an accurate diagnosis and are established on a treatment plan that is working for you, you can set the pain diary aside. You may want to try keeping it for a week every few months just to get a picture of your overall progress. But if you develop new symptoms, start having an increase in pain or try a new medication or therapy, it would be a good idea to keep the diary again until the new issues are resolved.

There are a variety of different formats that can be used when keeping a pain diary. I have designed a Daily Pain Log that is easy to use and gives you a visual picture of your pain levels and the things that increase or decrease the intensity of your pain. You can download and print it out here: Daily Pain Log

Be sure to take your pain diary or pain log with you when you see your doctor.

Using the Daily Pain Log

• Pain Level - Record your pain level at somewhat regular intervals throughout the day. It's not necessary to record it every hour, but be sure you're not just noting it when your pain is at its worst. It's important to see both the highs and lows for the day. For each time that you are recording, put a dot on the chart to indicate the intensity of your pain on a scale of 0 - 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you can imagine. For help in understanding the pain scale and descriptions of what the different numbers mean, read: Using the Pain Scale Effectively At the end of the day, connect the dots and you will have a graph of your pain levels for the day.

• Medication - List the name and dosage of any medicaitons you are taking for pain. Place a dot or an "x" on the line each time you take each medication.

• Non-drug Therapies - List any therapies or treatments you have other than medication, such as acupuncture, massage therapy or herbal supplements. Place a dot or an "x" on the line each time you have one of these therapies.

• Activities/Exercise - List any kind of activities or exercises that might have an impact on your pain, such as walking, horseback riding, mowing the lawn, or doing housework. Place a dot or an "x" on the line each time you perform one of these activities.

• In what parts of your body did you have pain today? - Be specific. "My leg," isn't very helpful. "The back of my left leg from the upper thigh down to my ankle," is much better.

• Comments and Additional Information - Make note of anything you think might be helpful or significant, such as a description of the pain (sharp, burning, aching, etc.), any stressors (bad news, an argument with your spouse, etc.) or changes in the weather.

Once you've completed the log for the day, you can pinpoint your highest and lowest pain levels and follow the line down the chart to see how those times relate to when you took your medication or what activities you did. You'll have a "picture" of your pain for each day.

© 2009 Karen Lee Richards

Updated 9/30/09

Karen Lee Richards
Meet Our Writer
Karen Lee Richards

Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She writes for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.