How to Effectively Talk to Your Doctor: Pain Management and Goal Setting

Talking to Your Doctor About Pain Management and Goal Setting

The Clearing Team
The Clearing Team

Managing chronic pain is a developing work in progress. When talking to your doctor about chronic pain, it’s vital to discuss setting and reaching goals to improve your quality of life. It’s equally important to make sure that you have a hand in helping develop your strategic pain management plan.

In this article about pain management goal setting and shared decision-making, we will explore the following topics:

  • Self-reflection
  • Goal setting
  • SMART goals
  • Self-empowerment
  • Shared decision-making


Is there something in your life you want to change that will help you better manage your pain and improve your quality of life? Take some time to sit with your thoughts about the ideal way to move forward. Keep in mind that we are talking about taking small steps, not giant leaps.

If you are having a hard time thinking of ideas for goals, here are a few examples to build on:

  • I want to walk around the block with less foot pain.
  • I would like to get a good night’s sleep, since rest significantly reduces my fibromyalgia pain.
  • I would like to be able to hold my grandchild with less shoulder pain.

Goal setting

Bravo! You have set a goal! Goal setting is an essential part of developing a pain management plan.

Think of goal setting in two ways:

  1. It means having a strong desire to set goals and track your progress. 
  2. It also calls for making gradual behavior changes that potentially reduce pain and improve your overall health. 

For example, research shows that physical activity, diet, sleeping patterns and emotional well-being can all impact pain. Making goals in these areas could help you feel better relatively quickly. Improving these areas of your life is also the basis of lifestyle medicine

Tackle these goals as your energy permits, and be kind to yourself when hard days happen.  

Be sure to share your goals with your doctor. Together, you and your care team can combine your goals into a strategic pain management plan.

SMART goals

Now mentally set an intention to reach your goals. The next step is coming up with a plan to put your goals into action, starting with the one that appeals to you most. One strategy you can use is SMART goal setting. 

SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Specific: Be very detailed in setting a goal. 

Measurable: Quantify your goal with an exact number.

Attainable: Your goal must be achievable. Remember, you are the expert on your pain and know your body best. Don’t overdo it. You don’t have to run a 10K!

Relevant: Make sure this goal is genuinely meaningful to you. If it does not inspire you, chances are you will not follow through.

Time-Bound: Set a time frame for achieving your goal. This could be 2 weeks, 6 months, or even 1 year.

For example: What is one SMART goal that you can set today?

I will commit to doing a 20-minute daily stretching routine in the morning for the next two weeks. I will track my daily progress in my pain diary.


You have set a goal, put your goal into action, and are tracking your progress. This is a huge step in recapturing the ability to manage your pain. Every time you achieve a single SMART goal, you feel a sense of accomplishment. Continue to set and meet more goals. There will be occasional setbacks and disappointments. Do not get discouraged and keep pressing forward. 

Over time, you will build an abundance of tools to help cope with your pain and improve your overall health. Gradually, your confidence will put you on a clear path to managing your pain. There is no stopping you now!

Shared-decision making

In the past, some patients looked entirely to doctors for all the answers to treatment and management of chronic pain. However, sometimes doctors may not have the answers you are hoping to find. 

Chronic pain is often a lingering condition that is challenging to manage. Even with advances in medical technology and new drug treatment options, there isn’t always a cure. 

So, where does that leave you, the patient? Your doctor may be the medical expert, but you are the expert on your chronic pain.

Let’s say you are experiencing pain because of a herniated disc in your lower back. As the medical expert, your doctor can walk you through a clinical diagnosis, explain surgical options, offer a variety of injections, discuss physical therapy, or propose medications. 

Instead of the doctor exclusively making all the decisions, you should also have a voice in creating a plan that best meets your present needs. Both you and your doctor should share in the decision-making process. 

Some decisions to be mindful of during this conversation include: 

  • Do you understand the risks and benefits of all the options on the table? 
  • Is there a particular option you feel strongly about? 
  • Do you feel well informed to make a decision?  
  • Do you feel supported by your doctor? 

Think of your relationship with your doctor as a partnership in which shared decision-making and working together will improve your quality of life.

So what’s the best way to go about improving your quality of life?

When it comes to chronic pain, you play a central role in managing it. Although your doctor has medically-based facts to share with you, they won’t have all the answers. 

That’s when other techniques, such as SMART goals and self-reflection, can come into play. These strategies allow you to work together with your doctor to come up with a plan that best fits your lifestyle and habits. Then, once you hit a few milestones in your timeline, you’ll start gaining confidence you never knew you had.

Many thanks to Parcilla Badhwar PharmD, a pediatric pharmacist, musician and pain advocate in Austin, Texas, for partnering with the Clearing team on this article.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your individual needs and medical conditions.