Describing pain and discomfort

Describing your pain or discomfort will help your health care team understand what you are feeling, work out the cause of the pain, and plan the most appropriate pain management for you. Some people find it hard to explain their pain or why they are feeling uncomfortable, but answering these questions may help you express this:

  • In which parts of your body do you feel your pain?
  • How bad is the pain?
  • How does it compare to pain you have felt in the past?
  • What does it feel like? For example, is it dull, throbbing, steady, constant, shooting, stabbing or burning? (Use descriptive words.)
  • Are there any ‘pins and needles’ or tingling? Is there pain in areas where it feels numb or not quite normal?
  • Does your pain spread from one area to another (radiate)?
  • When did the pain or discomfort begin? (Try timing the pain.)
  • Is your pain constant? If not, how often does it occur? How long does the pain last each time it occurs?
  • Which of your daily activities does it prevent you from doing? (E.g. getting out of bed, getting dressed, bending down, walking, sitting for long periods, exercising, carrying things, driving.)
  • What activities do you think you could do or would like to do if the pain wasn’t there?
  • How does the pain make you feel emotionally?
  • What relieves your pain? What makes it worse?
  • What pain relief have you tried? What helped or didn’t help?
  • Did you have any side effects from the medication?
  • What have you done in the past to relieve other types of pain?
  • Is there anything you are worried about with respect to the pain?

How bad is the pain diagram overcoming cancer pain booklet

Keeping a pain diary

Keeping a record of your pain, what you have tried for relief and how it has worked can help you and those caring for you to understand more about your pain and how it can be managed.

Your health professional may give you material to fill in. Some people use a mobile device, such as a smartphone, to keep track.


Part of keeping a record of the pain may be noting what happens to cause your pain. Sometimes a specific event or situation can cause pain to occur – this is called a trigger.

Knowing what triggers your pain, might help you to prevent it or relieve it. For example, if you know that sitting down for a long period of time makes your back ache, you can take a dose of pain relief before travelling or going to a movie.

Health professionals contact list

Another important part of pain management is writing a list of the health professionals in your team and their contact details.

Keep this list handy in case you (or your carer) need to get in touch. For example, your pain management specialist may instruct you to call if you need to take four or more doses of breakthrough pain relief, or if you are feeling very nauseated or sedated. Talk to your specialist about what should trigger you to call.

This information was last reviewed in November 2013

This information has been reviewed by: Dr Melanie Lovell, Consultant Palliative Care Physician, Senior Lecturer, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, NSW; Prof Frances Boyle AM, Professor of Medical Oncology, Mater Hospital and University of Sydney, NSW; Prof Michael J Cousins AM, Professor & Head, Pain Management & Research Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Carol Kanowski, Clinical Nurse Consultant, North Queensland Persistent Pain Management Service, QLD; Brenda Kirkwood, Helpline Operator, Cancer Council QLD; A/Prof Odette Spruyt, Director, Pain and Palliative Care, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; and Sally White, Consumer.

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Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
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  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

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  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.