Established by the American Chronic Pain Association in 2001, September is Pain Awareness Month. The idea was to change chronic pain perception both in medical environments and through the general public. Chronic pain can cause a ripple effect for individuals affected and their families, including depression, difficulty in caring for themselves or their families, and the inability to remain employed. As medical professionals, it’s your job to help your patients cope with pain, manage their pain, and improve their quality of care. Let’s take a closer look.

Pain Assessments

Because pain is relative, every patient’s experience is going to be different. That’s why ongoing evaluations and pain assessments are critical to caring for those experiencing chronic pain. Patients and their caregivers need to participate in this process to get the full benefit. A pain assessment will measure the baseline pain as well as additional breakthrough pain.

Listen Carefully

To do a patient assessment, you must listen carefully. A caregiver can’t simply assume what the patient feels; they need to hear it explicitly from the patient’s point of view. But that also means you need to employ empathy. You need to consider every angle, not just your own as a medical professional.

Watch Body Language

Throughout this process, pay attention to the patient’s body language as well. There may be things they don’t feel comfortable saying out loud, and it’s your job to determine what they’re holding back. Their body language can be very informative. Watch for body language that doesn’t match the words they’re saying.

Ask Helpful Questions

Helpful questions are open-ended and designed to inspire hope in the patient. It conveys that you’re listening, and you truly care about their comfort level. You can ask them to rate their pain from 1 to 10. Or ask them specific questions about their quality of sleep, if they have trouble concentrating, or about their mood. And don’t forget to ask them if they’re satisfied with the care provided.

Avoid Hurtful Words

Of course, as helpful as questions are, you have to be careful not to cross a line into hurtful words or phrases that won’t help the patient and may make them more agitated. For example, you may think its helpful to say “you need to get over it,” but that hits just as hard as physical pain. Instead, focus on more questions. If a person seems to be at the end of their rope, ask them what they’ve done to keep going.

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