Living with Chronic Pain

How Is Chronic Pain Diagnosed?


Chronic pain is defined as any type of pain that persists longer than six months. The pain may come and go, or it may be present all the time. Getting a proper diagnosis is an important part of developing the right treatment plan.

Valuable questions

In order to determine pain levels, a health care provider often asks important questions, such as the following:

  • When did the pain begin?
  • What does the pain feel like?
  • Where is the pain located?
  • What pain treatments have been tried? Did they help?
  • Does the pain impact everyday life?
  • How is the pain affecting the ability to function?
  • What activities make the pain worse?
  • Does the pain interfere with sleep?
  • Does the pain cause mood fluctuations?

Tracking this information at home and maintaining a pain log is an effective way to help a health care provider determine a diagnosis and find appropriate treatments.

What is a pain scale?

A pain scale is a tool used by health care providers to determine the severity of pain. There are different types of pain scales and the type of information the scale gathers often depends on the scale. Information gathered includes, but is not limited to: pain severity, duration, pain type, and emotional impact. Informing the health care provider of fluctuations of pain levels throughout the day is helpful for diagnosis and treatment. If certain things make the pain worse or better, be sure to label those activities with a pain number and tell the provider.

What other tests are done to diagnose chronic pain?

In addition to using a pain scale, a doctor may also order an MRI, a CT scan, and/or an X-ray to determine a proper diagnosis. Other diagnostic tests include, but are not limited to: muscle function tests, nerve conduction tests, bone scans, and blood tests.

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