We look at how and why to keep a Pain Management Journal, which can play a pivotal role in effectively treating chronic conditions and increasing quality of life.

How to Keep a Pain Management Journal

Your journal does not have to be elaborate nor does it have to take up too much of your time.

Pain journals can be either paper or electronic. If you prefer the electronic route, look for mobile journaling apps that can help you make updates wherever you are. Digital records can also be easier to share with doctors. For those who prefer pen and paper, consider scanning your journal or taking photos with your phone for quick reference.

You also do not have to follow any certain format when journaling, though there are some details that we recommend you include, as we’ll discuss below. The simplest format is a bulleted list, but many people find it helpful to use a narrative structure. You also are not required to stick with any certain format. Feel free to experiment and find what works best for you.

Start by trying to devote a few minutes to journaling every day. If you already keep a weekly or daily planner, you can integrate pain journaling into your existing routine. Otherwise, try to schedule journaling for the same time or around the same activities every day until it becomes a habit. This could be right after breakfast, just before bed, or anywhere in between.

The most important thing is that you make updates as consistently as you can. This can even mean jotting a few quick notes every day, then setting aside time once a week to review and reflect.

What to Include in a Pain Management Journal

As with form and format, you should customize your journal’s contents to your unique needs and goals. However, there are some details that we recommend you include, as they can be very helpful for your healthcare team.

Perhaps the most obvious of these is your overall pain levels during the day. Many people create a standard 0 – 5 or 0 – 10 scale to help them quickly rate their pain and more easily spot trends or problem areas.

Other details you may want to include:

  • Activities you performed and whether they made pain better or worse
  • How long you are able to do those activities
  • What you’ve done to manage your health that day (taking medications, exercising, meditating, etc)
  • What you are eating and drinking
  • How you’re sleeping (how long, how deeply, etc)
  • Events going on in your life
  • Your overall mood and outlook (stressed, content, excited, etc)

Why and How to Use Your Pain Management Journal

The primary goal of a pain journal is to help you identify any patterns in your symptoms and how effective treatments are in managing your condition(s).

Having this information at hand allows you and your healthcare team to figure out which treatments help and which don’t, as well as what factors are most important in improving or maintaining your quality of life. In this way, a pain management journal can be the cornerstone of a comprehensive treatment plan.

As noted above, try to journal once a day. Review your entries at regular intervals (once a week or month), and see if you spot any trends. If you’re using a numerical rating scale to track pain levels, note what your average rating was for the previous week or month. Ask questions like: Did I have any particularly good or bad days? What happened on those days? Has it happened before?

Bring your journal or a summary of your reviews to appointments with your healthcare providers, and let them know your findings. Together, you can decide if and how to modify your treatment plan.

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