Good Days…Bad Days With Maureen Pratt

Good Days…Bad Days With Maureen Pratt

Word Play: How Do You Say, “Pain?”

“Ouch!” “Eeeee!!!”  “Ow!”  “Oooh…”

You may or may not find these words in your favorite dictionnary, but if you live with chronic pain, you’ll probably have used them or others to describe how a particular pang, ache, or jab feels. (You might have used others, too, that I cannot print here, but we’ll leave these aside for now!)

Describing pain to someone who doesn’t feel it is one of the most challenging aspects of living with a chronic condition – and also one of the most important. For, sure enough, when a doctor asks you, “How does the pain feel?” the description you give might make a difference in what tests are ordered or treatment is prescribed. For example, a dull throb of pain might signal something very distinct from a searing, localized hot spot. An ache that comes and goes might mean one thing, whereas a constant discomfort might mean another.



Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/

The ability to give a vivid picture of the pain you feel is one of first things to include when fashioning your personal “health condition thesaurus.” Besides helping you and your medical team communicate better, the words you use can also convey to your loved ones a better sense of what you’re going through and, perhaps, how they can help. Also, chronic pain has a way of taking over our lives; by describing just what, where, and how the pain affects you can help keep it in its place (so that, for example, the leg pain you feel doesn’t emotionally seem to overwhelm your whole body).


There are formal words to try out when it comes to describing pain. Spasm, cramp, ache, sore, sting, and burn. There are shooting pains, stabbing pains, gnawing pains, and throbbing pains.

There are also less formal words and phrases that can be employed, some of which might even be more descriptive and, thus, more helpful, for the sufferer and the hearer.

“I fell as if I’ve been mowed down by a truck.” (all-over, debilitating pain)

“My arm feels like it’s been stung by a hundred bees.”

“My toe hurts so badly it’s as if a ton of bricks fell on it.”

Emotional and spiritual pain can be described in many of the same ways as physical pain. One can feel “crushed” by the news of a diagnosis. Or, “bludgeoned” after weathering a crisis.


In the aftermath of a personal struggle, the spirit can feel “torn,” or “withered to desert dryness.”  If you are carrying a heavy burden, your soul might even feel “pancaked” from the pressure.

Locating the pain specifically is also another important part of communicating about it. Have a headache? Where does it seem to be located (front, side, all over?). Have a back ache? What part of the back seems to hurt (upper, middle, lower?).

Another aspect of pain that is helpful to take note of and communicate is its duration. Constant pain can be different from intermittant pain, for example.

When speaking with loved ones, some people will actually forgo using words and put a picture on their website or other place of cyber communication. I’ve selected the picture above to illustrate how, sometimes, pictures do paint a thousand words!


The better we describe how we feel to others (and to ourselves), the more we will foster understanding between those of us who have chronic health conditions and those who do not. Coming to that understanding helps everyone learn to care and be cared for – a termendous gift to all concerned!

Now, how do you say, “pain?”

Blessings for the day,



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