Heading to the doctor’s office can be intimidating. Most of the time I would rather work overtime to avoid visiting my office if only because I don’t understand most of what it is they are saying. This, mixed with my ever-worsening fear of needles, and you’d be surprised that I do actually visit the doctors whenever my body calls upon it. For those of us suffering from chronic back pain, biting down and scheduling an appointment isn’t much of a decision—our bodies, riddled with pain and aches really make the choice for us, despite what we personally may desire.
When we’re hurting, our bodies needs outweigh the need of many, and instead must be dealt with appropriately and in the proper setting. Yet, while chronic back pain sufferers are aware of our bodies’ needs, some of us still experience the racing heart and sweaty palm that happen each time we write our name on the sign in sheet. While I cannot prescribe a magic pill that will make visiting the doctor’s office that much easier—and if anyone should stumble across one let me know—I can offer you some tips and tricks for making your visit that much easier.
- Identify Pain Location: Make sure to understand where the location of your back pain is stemming from, prior to entering your office. Do you have pain in your thoracic (the upper and middle parts of your back)? The lumbar (the lower part of your back)? The lumbosacral (the tailbone and extreme bottom of your back)? Or the sacrum (where your spine connects to the pelvic bone)? Or perhaps your pain stems from above your back in the neck? Locating where your chronic pain is radiating from is the first important step in getting the most out of your appointment.
- Make A List: Preparing a list of questions and concerns prior to your appointment will help with your anxiety. Write them down and prioritize them so that you’re prepared when your doctor asks you if you have any questions. Creating a list of this nature will ensure that your appointment is not spent discussing what you consider less pressing matters. Your anxiety will only heighten if you leave the office without asking your questions, and a heightened anxiety will undoubtedly mean an increase in your back pain suffering.
- Understand Your Triggers: Before entering your appointment, make sure that you have asked yourself when your back pain is triggering. Ask yourself am I hydrated? What have I been eating? Things such as dehydration can severely alter the way that your body operates. We’ve all heard that we should drink eight glasses of water a day, or that your body is made of roughly 75% of water. The truth is that it is precisely because your body is made up of so much water that you should actually drink half your body weight in ounces of water a day. Similarly, the chemicals from a processed diet can increase your pain level, because they are not natural to your body. If you’ve been lackluster with your water intake and diet, then change that at the first sign of a flare up. Realize that your doctor will want you to be honest about your diet, but to be honest with your doctor, you’ll have to be honest with yourself first.
- How Have You Been Sleeping?: Sleep problems can and will intensify the pain that you feel each day. It is truly the double-edged sword of chronic back pain. On the one hand, your body aches too much, leaving you restless and incapable of dozing off. On the other hand, that lack of sleep severely increases your pain level throughout the day. Sleep is when your body recoups, as well as when the nerves and cells in your body regenerate. So a lack of sleep means that your body is incapable of healing itself over night, leading to increased pain in the morning. Make sure that you take stock of your sleeping patterns prior to your doctor appointment; in chronic pain management, I can promise you that it is something your doctor will want to know.
Having and maintaining a life filled with chronic back pain is stressful enough, without the added anxiety of anticipating your doctor appointment. Between feeling unprepared to discuss what it is that’s wrong, not realizing what is triggering your pain, and not comprehending the lingo that your doctor is using, it’s unsurprising to find oneself panic stricken as they enter an office. Following these simple steps can ensure that your appointment runs smoothly and—forgive me— pain free. In the mean time, if you or a friend happens to find that magic pill that I mentioned earlier, I’d be ready and willing to take it off your hands.