I have been yelled at by my doctor more times than I can count for waiting what he considered too long of a time to come in to see him for some pain or problem. Well, he doesn’t yell at me exactly but he does ask why I wait so long to come in. My answer is always the same: It didn’t hurt that much. He believes me now, but I’ve been a patient for over 25 years so he’s had a chance to get to know me. He knows that I have a very high pain tolerance and that if I say something didn’t hurt, it didn’t hurt. Or not enough to interfere with my ability to do what I wanted or needed to do.
Almost everyone’s woken up with a stiff neck at one time or another. There can be many causes, but the stiffness usually works itself out within a couple hours.
But what if it didn’t? Would you just take an ibuprofen and go to work? Probably. You don’t wanna jump the gun and make an appointment with a healthcare provider (family doc, chiropractor, massage therapist) if you have a self-limiting issue, right? I’m with you.
Now, what if the ibuprofen only took the edge off and the next day you were back to where you started the day before? What if it was worse the next day? What if you couldn’t turn your head enough to check your blind spot while driving? What if the ibuprofen worked great, but the pain was back the next day? What if the ibuprofen began have less and less effect on your pain? Would you just up the dose? Would you just soldier on through the pain? At what point would you make an appointment with someone who might be able to help you?
There’s no wrong answer. We’re just finding your baseline.
We’re all familiar with the 0-10 pain scale where 0 is no pain and 10 is the worst pain you can imagine. It’s kinda useful, but not great. It’s biggest problem is that it’s subjective.
Experience has taught me that everything, including pain, is relative. So, if you’ve never had truly excruciating pain you can’t really imagine it very well.
Likewise, if you’ve had truly excruciating pain, everything below that mark doesn’t seem as bad as it once would have. Part of my high pain tolerance was/is due this factor of relativity.
Several years ago, I came across a pain scale at a doctor’s office that actually had (mostly) objective measures for each number on the scale. I may have gotten a bit excited about it. But, then again, I may be a bit of a geek about this kinda stuff.
Here’s my holy grail of pain scales (until I find the next, better one):
0 = Pain free.
1 = Very minor annoyance.
2 = Minor annoyance.
3 = Annoying enough to be distracting.
4 = Can be ignored if you’re really involved in your work, but still distracting.
5 = Can’t be ignored for more than 30 minutes.
6 = Can’t be ignored for any length of time, but you can still go to work and participate in social activities.
7 = Makes it difficult to concentrate, interferes with sleep. You can still function with effort.
8 = Physical activity is severely limited. You can read and converse with effort. Nauseau and dizziness set in as factors of pain.
9 = Unable to speak. Crying out or moaning uncontrollably.
10 = Pain makes you pass out.
The point at which you make an appointment with someone should vary based on 2 things: How high up on the pain scale your pain is and how long you’ve had your pain. The lower you are on the scale, generally the longer you can wait to make an appointment. If your pain rates high on the scale, you’ll want to get in sooner rather than later.
Here are my recommendations:
1-3: You’re pretty safe waiting a few weeks to see if it’ll work itself out. Although, honestly, if it hasn’t started working itself out in a couple days it probably won’t.
4-6: If your self-care doesn’t start reducing your pain in less than a week, it’s time to get an appointment with someone.
7: Call right away, especially since it may be a couple days before your massage therapist has an opening (especially if they’re good)
8-10: Why are you not in the ER?
Ultimately, how long you wait is up to you. Just remember: The longer you have pain or reduced range of motion before you see someone, the longer it’ll take to get you pain free or back to full movement.