How to describe your pain? Easier said than done…

Help! I have a Disability Hearing!pain in elbow

How will you describe your pain? It isn’t always easy to put into words…

MANY people suffer from soreness, aching, spasms, and other types of “discomfort.” But, everyone’s experiences different symptoms, and sometimes it is hard to describe your pain. Trying to get someone else to understand your symptoms can be so frustrating!

If you experience pain, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will ask you to describe it during your hearing.

Here are some questions to help you put your pain into words. Once you have worked though these questions, you should be better prepared to answer similar questions from the judge (or your lawyer) during your disability hearing.

About Pain:

  • Can you tell me about the pain that you have been experiencing?

Describing the pain

Pretend you are describing your pain to an old friend. Forget about the judge, for now.

  • What happened to cause you to have this pain?
  • How long have you had the pain?

Note about causes of pain: if you have been in an accident that caused or intensified your pain, be sure that your disability lawyer knows about the accident well before the hearing. Even if the accident happened many years ago, your lawyer will need to consider whether evidence of the accident would help your case or not. Every case is different.

  • What does the pain feel like?
  • Is it tender to touch?

Consider using these words to describe what you are feeling: aching, cramping, hot or burning, sharp, shooting, stabbing, throbbing, tender.

  • Does it limit the amount you can bend the affected joint? How much?
  • Is this pain constant? Or, does it come and go?
  • What sorts of things trigger this pain?

Potential triggers: bending or moving a certain way, trying to pick something up off the floor, reaching overhead, lifting something heavy.

Attempts at relief

  • What relieves your pain?

Treatments that are sometimes used to relieve pain: medication, hot baths, stretching, heating pads, ice, ointments, TENS unit, physical therapy, massage, psychological therapy, chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, exercises, injections.

  • How severe is your pain?
  • Is it always of the same intensity?

Rating severity of pain: consider the scale of 1 to 10 that the doctor’s office uses. 1 is not bad at all, and 10 is the most severe pain you have ever felt in your life. How would you rate your pain, using that scale? Sometimes it may be a 3, and other times a 6. It is not unusual for pain to vary in severity/intensity.

  • If your pain is not always the same, what increases the intensity of your pain?

Examples of things that might increase pain: sitting in one place too long, walking, standing, stress, environmental conditions.

  • Do you have any numbness or pins-and-needles feelings along with this pain?
  • Do you have muscle spasms?
  • Are there any other symptoms associated with this pain?

Other symptoms associated with pain: redness, swelling, heat, stiffness, crackling noise, muscle weakness, fatigue, appetite loss.

  • Is the pain helped by limiting your activities, lying down, shifting positions frequently, sitting in a special chair, etc.?
  • Do you have “good days” and “bad days?” What are each of those like? How often do you experience “bad days?”

Symptom Journal

It is a good idea to keep a symptom journal for several weeks.  A symptom journal will help you spot patterns in your symptoms, that you may have overlooked. It will also make it easier for you to describe the frequency, intensity, and treatments of your pain. This is especially helpful for those who have “good days” and “bad days.”

Here is an example of what your pain or symptom journal might look like:

My Pain Journal

Date / Time Pain Rating Location & how it feels What I was doing at the time Medication / treatments How long did it last Other notes
March 01, 2016

10:30 am

5 Hip / sharp stabbing pain Sleeping Oxycodone / rest 3 hours
3:30 pm 6 Lower back / throbbing Washing dishes n/a Rest of the day Only washed dishes for 10 minutes
8:15 pm 7 mid and lower back / sharp Going to bed Oxycodone / rest Most of the night
March 02, 2016

5:30 am

5 Lower back and hip / sharp Sleeping Ice 45 min Went back to sleep after 45 minutes
8:00 am 8 mid and lower back / sharp shooting Taking sheets off bed Oxycodone / ice / rest Rest of the day Stayed on the couch w/ice and pain meds

Be sure to show your completed pain journal to your lawyer. This could help him or her determine which questions to ask you during the hearing. Show it to your doctor, as well.back pain

Keeping a journal of pain and other symptoms will help you put those symptoms into words. If you have done this, you should be better prepared to describe your pain and symptoms to the judge, at your hearing.

Every case is different. Every person experiences pain and other symptoms, differently. You will probably be asked some of the questions above, but not all of them. You may also be asked some different questions, depending on what your symptoms are.

If you need help describing your pain, be sure to get an opinion letter from your doctor, or a witness letter from a friend or family member.

More articles in the “Help! I have a Disability Hearing!” series:

If we have not answered your questions about what to expect at your disability hearing, please keep checking back! Or, leave your question in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Best wishes on your upcoming hearing!

Originally published: September 26, 2016

 Last updated: October 23, 2017 at 13:09 pm


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