For obvious reasons, objectively measuring pain can be challenging for healthcare providers, which means that reaching a diagnosis of chronic pain can be quite challenging. This is because even when the underlying cause is the same, everyone experiences pain in different ways. Due to this fact, a diagnosis of chronic pain isn’t as simple as going to a doctor’s appointment and coming home with lots of helpful information.
In some cases, it can take months- and even a year or more- to accurately diagnose a chronic pain condition. Your physician will do his or her best to figure out exactly what is causing your pain.
Most of the time, chronic pain conditions also have symptoms that appear to indicate other illnesses, which makes it quite difficult to figure out what is truly causing the problem. It will most likely take you several appointments- and maybe even consultations with several different specialists to finally get a chronic pain diagnosis.
Following is a list of a few of the things you can expect to do when you’re being tested for a diagnosis of chronic pain.
You will be expected to describe your pain
One of the very first things you will be expected to do- and you will probably have to do it numerous times- is to rate your pain. Though it doesn’t always seem this way, the truth is, physicians say that one of the most reliable sources of information is a self-report from a patient regarding their pain and symptoms.
Being able to describe your pain to your physician can help to differentiate between muscular and neurological pain. Some physicians will simply ask you a few questions about your chronic pain, and others may have a formalized questionnaire that they will use to ask you to choose the words that best describe the pain you’re experiencing. Some of the words include: tingling, burning, dull, or sharp.
In addition to describing the type of pain, you’ll also be asked about the severity of your pain and how long it tends to last as well as what seems to relieve it and what makes it feel worse.
This can include weather, medications, and even activities. You may want to consider keeping a pain journal for a few weeks prior to the appointment so that you can have accurate and thorough answers.
Your physician will probably want to conduct a psychological assessment
If your physician asks you how your pain makes you feel- don’t be offended. Additionally, don’t be upset if he or she asks you if you have a history of depression and/or anxiety. There is a very high prevalence of depression caused by chronic pain, as well as chronic pain as a result of depression. In many cases, it can be very difficult to separate depression and anxiety from chronic pain. Both conditions contribute to each other- it can be a very vicious cycle.
Once again, your physician may just ask you a few questions about your emotional well-being, or may have a formal questionnaire that he or she will use. Always make sure you’re as honest as possible, even if you personally don’t believe that you have any psychological problems.
Expect to undergo physical as well as neurological examinations
Since your physical structure can offer some clues regarding your chronic pain, your physician will conduct a thorough physical exam. During this exam, he or she will check your posture, check your range of motion, and also check for any physical abnormalities that could be causing or contributing to your chronic pain. Some of these physical abnormalities include a forward neck posture, kyphosis, and a discrepancy in the length of your legs.
Additionally, your physician will perform a complete neurological examination in order to check out your reflexes, check for any sensory problems such as numbness or tingling, and will take some time to test your balance and coordination. These very simple tests can reveal possible causes for your chronic pain, such as weakness in your muscles, muscle strains, and muscle sprains.
Expect to undergo bloodwork
Though a blood test is not likely to tell you the specific cause of your chronic pain, it can help to rule out other illnesses that share the same signs and symptoms. There are some autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis that can be found through blood testing. In some cases, chronic conditions, such as diabetes or deficiencies could be the cause of your chronic pain.
If you have signs and symptoms that are very similar to those of other chronic disorders, you should expect to have blood work done during one of your visits. Depending on what exactly the physician is looking for- and if you’re seeing different specialists- you may have to undergo multiple blood tests.
Expect to undergo nerve and imaging tests
If your physician thinks that your chronic pain is due to bone, nerve, or muscle damage, he or she will most likely have you undergo nerve testing or a scan of some sort.
Some of the various types of scans or imaging tests you may undergo are MRIs or x-rays, which can reveal any tissue or bone damage that may be present. Other types of testing include EMG testing, which pinpoints weakened muscles and nerve conduction testing which can pinpoint any nerve damage.
Though it can be quite frustrating when you’re going through the chronic pain, you should keep in mind that it might take several months for your physician to find the source of the chronic pain.
This means that you will probably have to go through several appointments with your primary physician- and maybe even some specialists. This will also mean that you will probably have to undergo repeat testing as required- since you’re seeing different physicians.
During the testing process, your physician will probably start treating your chronic pain by testing out various types of pain medications and figuring out what exactly works for you.