- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Pain and cancer
- Describing pain
- Tools to describe your pain
Tools to describe your pain
Using a pain scale or keeping a pain diary can help you describe your pain and how it is affecting you. This will help your health care team find the best pain control methods for you.
Learn more about:
- Using a pain scale
- Making a note of triggers
- Keeping a contact list
- When to seek help
- Keeping a pain diary
Some people rate the level of pain on a scale. There are different kinds of scales.
|Word scale||Number scale||Activity tolerance||Facial scale|
|rates the pain from none or mild through to moderate or severe||rates the pain from 1–10; the higher the number, the worse the pain||scale rates how much the pain affects what you can do, e.g. walking or carrying things||uses facial expressions to show how the pain makes you feel|
|no pain||0, 1||no pain|
|mild pain||2||can be ignored|
|moderate pain||3, 4||interferes with tasks|
|moderate pain||5, 6||interferes with
|severe pain||7, 8||interferes with
|worst pain possible||9, 10||bed rest required|
Write down what seems to cause your pain. This is called a trigger, and it may be a specific activity or situation. Knowing what triggers your pain might help you to prevent or relieve it.
Make 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.
Talk to your doctors about what should prompt you to call and who to call, particularly if it’s after hours. For example, you may be instructed to call if you need to take four or more doses of breakthrough pain relief, or if you are feeling very sick or sleepy.
A written record of your pain can help you and those caring for you understand more about your pain and how it can be managed. Note down how the pain feels at different times of the day, what you have tried for relief and how it has worked. Some people track their pain using an app on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet.
This information has been developed by Cancer Council NSW on behalf of all other state and territory Cancer Councils as part of a National Cancer Information Working Group initiative. We thank the reviewers of this information: Dr Tim Hucker, Clinical Lead, Pain Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Lecturer, Monash University, VIC; Carole Arbuckle, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Anne Burke, Co-Director, Psychology, Central Adelaide Local Health Network, SA, and President Elect, The Australian Pain Society; Kathryn Collins, Co-Director, Psychology, Central Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; A/Prof Roger Goucke, Head, Department of Pain Management, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Director, WA Statewide Pain Service, and Clinical A/Prof, The University of Western Australia, WA; Chris Hayward, Consumer; Prof Melanie Lovell, Senior Staff Specialist, Palliative Care, HammondCare Centre for Learning and Research, Clinical A/Prof, Sydney Medical School, and Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney, NSW; Linda Magann, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Palliative Care and Peritonectomy Palliative Care, St George Hospital, NSW; Tara Redemski, Senior Physiotherapist, Gold Coast University Hospital, Southport, QLD.
Thank you to the Australian Adult Cancer Pain Management Guideline Working Party, Improving Palliative Care through Clinical Trials (ImPaCCT), and the Centre for Cardiovascular and Chronic Care (University of Technology Sydney), whose work contributed to the development of the previous editions of this booklet. Thank you also to the original writers, Dr Melanie Lovell and Prof Frances Boyle AM.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
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