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Sharp Health News

A better way to describe and manage pain

Nov. 28, 2018

A better way to describe and manage pain

Pain is subjective, and the same pain may be experienced very differently by different people. For people who live with chronic pain, assessing and describing pain levels can be driven by a number of factors, including their personal pain threshold and concerns about how they will be perceived by others.

“Pain is difficult to measure, and we cannot test pain the way we test blood pressure or a cholesterol level,” says Dr. Bianca Tribuzio, DO, a pain management specialist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.

In an attempt to try to quantify pain, the commonly used “zero to 10” pain scale was developed. However, because of the subjective nature of pain and how it differs per individual, doctors have learned that just relying on the numeric pain scale is not the ideal way to assess and treat pain.

“Today, we look at a lot more than just a pain number, and the goals for treating pain now involve looking at improvement of pain and function,” Dr. Tribuzio says.

A better way of assessing pain
In order for doctors to better understand an individual’s pain, it’s essential for effective communication between the patient and provider to understand how pain is individual to that person.

  • Use descriptive words — Patients can better communicate their pain using descriptive words and experiences such as “sharp,” “stabbing” and “burning.” These descriptive words help provide context to the numerical score. It’s also helpful to hear what makes pain better or worse.

  • Describe how pain affects daily life — Because pain is also related to function, it’s important to hear examples of how a patient’s pain is limiting them, and what they are functionally having a hard time doing.

  • Talk about goals for pain management — Patients should talk with their doctor about what they would like to get back to doing. This could be wanting to play golf again or to be able to play with their children or grandchildren. All of this information gives doctors the goals to work with to tailor the treatment plan to the individual to not only improve the patient’s pain, but also their function and quality of life.

Understanding when opioids are — and aren’t — the right treatment
With the opioid epidemic, there have been efforts to improve pain management and communication about the risks and benefits, as well as alternatives.

“There are times that opioid medications are indicated, and it’s important to understand side effects and risks of these medications, as well as to work closely with your doctor if prescribed opioid medications,” Dr. Tribuzio says.

“However, non-opioid and non-pharmacologic treatment options are the preferred treatment method of chronic pain, and can also be helpful in managing acute pain,” she says.

Alternative pain management techniques include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Stretching
  • Meditation
  • Biofeedback
  • Chiropractic care

“Many of these treatments can be just as effective for managing pain, but are safer and have lower risks,” Dr. Tribuzio says. “We are focused on appropriate prescribing to improve patient safety and provide effective pain management.”

Sharp Rees-Stealy offers a six-week class focused on managing chronic pain for its patients with HMO insurance. Learn more about class offerings in 2019.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Bianca Tribuzio about managing pain, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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