Examples of What to Include In a Pain Journal

Whether you've been battling chronic pain for more than a decade or you're just starting to deal with consistent aches and soreness, a pain journal can help you document what you are feeling from day to day. Your pain journal is where you write down everything relating to your chronic pain — what kind of pain you have, what level of pain you are experiencing, what you were doing when you were in pain, and so on.

Close up of hands writing in a journal
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Why a Pain Journal Works for Chronic Pain

This information is useful both for you and your healthcare provider. It can be used to help identify patterns of pain, such as time of day or level of stress, or pain triggers from certain activities. A pain journal can also show what doesn’t increase your pain, which can help you make better decisions about how you spend your day. At the very least, it can be a good reference when memory doesn't serve you (for example, if you're not sure how to answer when your healthcare provider asks if your pain is worse after lunch).

Things to Include in Your Pain Journal

What exactly do you log in a pain journal? Everybody uses their journal differently, but most healthcare providers advise including the following:

  • Give Your Pain a Scale Rating: Most pain scales use the 0-10 rating system, with 0 representing no pain and 10 representing the worst imaginable pain. Your pain will usually fall somewhere in between.
  • Use Pain Descriptor Words: Is your pain burning? Tingling? Pulsating? Using pain descriptor words in your journal can help you track changes and patterns in your pain quality. It can also help healthcare providers pinpoint your type of pain.
  • Track the Time of Day Pain Occurs: Do you hurt more in the morning or the evening? How are your afternoons?
  • Note What You Are Doing When Your Pain Begins: Did you just get out of bed, or had you been sitting for a while when your pain started? Were you exercising or overusing certain muscles in your body? Write down how you feel after activities, such as walking the dog or playing with the kids.
  • Look at Elements That Might Contribute to Your Pain: Think about the external factors that may add to the pain, such as if you suffer from stiff joints; does this happen when it's raining or cold outside?
  • Write Down What You Ate and Drank That Day: Foods and beverages may contribute to or worsen the pain you are experiencing. Jot down everything you ingested the day you feel pain.
  • Describe Your Mood: It's also important to note your mental state and how you feel when experiencing pain. Are you depressed? Anxious? Fatigued? Obviously, the pain might be triggering these emotions, and your healthcare provider may recommend you see a mental health specialist to deal with the feelings that arise as a result of your chronic pain.

By Erica Jacques
Erica Jacques, OT, is a board-certified occupational therapist at a level one trauma center.