How to Find Out What Triggers or Worsens Pain

I say it often – pain can be unpredictable. Sometimes there is simply no rhyme or reason as to why pain flares up. But sometimes something triggers or worsens pain.

Last week when I was chatting to my friend online, my back suddenly became excruciatingly painful and I had to go to bed mid-conversation. There was no apparent reason for that pain, just my back doing what it does best.

Today, my trigeminal neuralgia is bad. But I know the reason why. We had visitors yesterday, so I talked more and laughed more. I’m not complaining – I enjoyed the company. But company often comes at a price.

Learning About Your Pain

Because I live with chronic pain, I’ve had to learn about coping skills like breathing techniques and distractions. I’ve learned that sometimes I need to rest and sometimes I need to move more. I’ve learned that sometimes I can push through, but sometimes I need to take extra meds. But the biggest thing I have had to learn is that some things can trigger or worsen my pain.

Finding triggers is so important. Some can often be avoided. Unfortunately, some can’t, but we can perhaps make some changes, or simply ensure we are well prepared for that payback pain.

How to Find Out What Triggers or Worsens Pain

Some triggers are obvious, but some are less so. Sometimes pain worsens for no apparent reason, but by keeping a pain diary, you might manage to find some triggers.

If I drink piping hot tea or freezing cold water, my trigeminal neuralgia will react almost instantly. Likewise, if I stand in a queue in the supermarket, my back pain will become worse. Because I know these things happen, I can try to avoid them.

But sometimes pain isn’t triggered instantly. That makes some triggers more difficult to find. For example, if I’ve been chatting on the phone, I might be ok at the time. But a few hours later, or even the next day, my face pain flares up. When that happens, it is more difficult to make the connection.

By keeping a pain diary, it can be easier to see a pattern and find triggers.

When pain flares, you can check the diary and you might find something which could have caused it. Sometimes, when you find a cause, you might be able to find a solution.

You can download an example of a pain diary here:

Pain Diary Example as a pdf
Pain Diary Example as a word doc

Alternatively, you could use a pain tracker app. There are several available but I love the Bearable App as it’s simple to use and it’s actually easier than using a diary.

Click here to read my review on the Bearable App

How to use a pain diary to find triggers. Picture of a notebook between two pot plants in white pots.

Common Triggers and Suggestions to Help

The following things may trigger pain conditions. These are just a few examples. A pain diary might help you to find more. For a more in-depth look at triggers for trigeminal neuralgia, please click on this link to my post, Trigeminal Neuralgia Triggers Which Make Life Difficult.


Jumping in the shower for five minutes, feeling refreshed and ready for the day, doesn’t always work for someone in pain or illness. Far from refreshing, showering can be exhausting and painful. Water from the shower can feel like stinging nettles or shards of glass on nerve pain.

Use a shower stool or bath seat.
Try a warm bath rather than a shower.
A long-handled sponge will save bending.
Place a chair outside the shower so you can sit down as soon as you’re finished.
On bad days, just wash or use wet wipes.

Brushing Teeth

If you have trigeminal neuralgia, brushing teeth can be like torture sometimes.

Try brushing with warm water.
Use a small, soft toothbrush.
Only use sensitive toothpaste.
Use a mouthwash on days you can’t brush.

Click here for more tips.

Eating and Drinking

Eating and drinking can be problematic for other conditions too, but very often it can be a huge struggle for people with trigeminal neuralgia. Common triggers can be food that is too hot, too cold, spicy, sweet, crunchy or chewy.

Try cutting food into very small pieces or blending it so you are still getting good nutrition. Drinking through a straw can sometimes help.

Click here for more tips.


Certain foods can cause major problems for many people.

One such condition is coeliac disease. This is an autoimmune disease. If a sufferer eats gluten, the body has an autoimmune reaction. It’s a serious illness which can come with many symptoms. Gluten is the culprit, but if you suspect you have it, you must still eat it until you’ve been tested.

Food allergies or intolerances can make people ill and sometimes can even be fatal. But it’s often thought that certain foods can exacerbate some health conditions, pain and brain fog.

Some foods thought to cause problems can be wheat, dairy, caffeine, sugar and artificial sweeteners. There might not always be medical proof, but if you keep a diary of everything you eat, you might find a pattern. You can then discuss it with your doctor.


Our bodies are often human barometers – we feel the weather. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to change it, but we can prepare ourselves if we know it will affect us. We can drink more water, ensure we stay warm or cool, use heat pads or cool packs and cover up well if we really need to go outside in cold, wet and windy weather.


Stress, anger, anxiety, grief and depression can all have an impact on pain. Try to work through problems if you can. Don’t try to deal with everything alone – talk to someone and get professional help if necessary.

Please take a look at my post How Chronic Pain or Illness is Affected by Stress. It has a few tips on coping with and cutting down stress and also has a great breathing exercise to try.


Everyone feels better with a restful sleep. Likewise, people feel worse if they’ve not slept well.

Please read my post about getting better quality sleep for some tips.


I am in several pain-related groups and I see this question often come up – “does your pain get worse around ‘that’ time of the month?” The answer is often a resounding yes. The menopause can cause the same issues.

No real tips with this, but speak to your doctor if things are much worse than normal.

Physical activity

Exercise is good for us. We’re told that often and I won’t argue with it. However, when living with health conditions, exercise isn’t always possible. With some conditions, it can feel as though every step vibrates through every nerve in the body, so doing a cardio workout would be crazy.

I’m not dismissing all types of exercise. But if we’re going to exercise, we need to find what’s right for us. Swimming, walking or even gentle exercise like yoga might be better.

It’s always worth asking a doctor for advice.

Childcare, Shopping and Housework

These things are never easy when you live with pain, but still necessary for most people.

Don’t be too proud to ask people to help.
Ask family to help with kids.
Shop online or make a shopping list and ask someone to collect it for you.
Only do necessary housework.
Learn to delegate chores.
Remember there’s always tomorrow.

The blog ‘The Winding Willows’ has an article about trying to tackle housework when you are struggling.


Going out, having visitors, talking more or laughing more can be tiring, draining and can have an impact on pain. But we shouldn’t give up on socialising altogether. We still need to have some enjoyment in life.


Simple things like having the flu, a cold, or a stomach bug can exacerbate other conditions. Sometimes ‘normal illnesses’ can’t be avoided, but we need to try to stay as healthy as possible.

We need to eat and drink well to ensure we’re putting good nutrition into our bodies. It’s often a good idea to ask a doctor to check vitamin and mineral levels in the blood and take supplements if we need them. I also get the flu injection every winter – I’d rather prevent it than try to treat it.

A Pain Diary Can Help Doctors Too

Doctors can only do so much to help, so it often comes down to us as patients to do what we can to help ourselves. By finding triggers we will be doing just that. However, keeping a diary can also give a doctor a full picture and help them to diagnose and treat us.

A Pain Diary Might Help You to Identify What Triggers or Worsens Your Pain

I believe it’s worth trying to keep a pain diary, even just for a month or two. Doing so really can help you to identify things that trigger or worsen your pain.

As always, thank you for reading. Please do share this post using the social media buttons below.

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41 thoughts on “How to Find Out What Triggers or Worsens Pain

  1. Brilliant tips and potential triggers to consider. The pain diary example is fab, too! I think it’s really important to reflect on what/how things can result in flares or certain symptoms, that way you can manage it a little better and be more prepared. I’m glad you had a good day yesterday, but I do hope the trigeminal neuralgia calms down a little over the weekend for you  ♥
    Caz xx

  2. Fantastic tips. I actually find that showering helps me when I am beginning to feel uneasy or in pain. But I can see how it may be exhausting and triggering for some. In the early stages of recovery, I found it hard just to stand up, so I always ended up feeling dizzy after a shower.

  3. I like that you’ve included emotions in this post – I never really focussed on this until I’d had my pain for a few years. Emotions, anxiety, stress and the weather are triggers for me. And they are the harder ones to manage. Great post!

  4. This is such a good idea. Tracking your symptoms is the first way you’ll be able to recognize what triggers you. It’s the same as tracking your mood.
    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Just about everything seems to be triggering my various pains at the moment and a visit to A&E with a badly sprained ankle hasn’t helped! I have developed some sort of repetitive strain pain in my hands over the past couple of weeks which has really hampered my blogging (hence no posts recently) and online action…….def made worse by this odd UK weather we are having. Hormones def play a role in our house and I see this with my 17 year old and her joint pain. The triggers for pain are so personal and something for each of us to navigate, be it weather changes, emotions, stress or physical (dislocations in my case). Great post, Liz with good suggestions, C x

  6. sjd68

    These are excellent tips to consider. I love reading your posts because they are so informative and in depth. The concept of a pain journal is fantastic. Knowing the triggers and avoiding them in the future if possible can be helpful!

  7. I had never even considered the idea of keeping a pain journal! I need to forward your blog to a friend who deals with fibromyalgia and let her know about this idea. I don’t know if she practices any sort of distraction techniques either. Now I’m curious! Because I would love to see your blog help her.

  8. I am not sure if this is even a condition or not or if it is just very common. I am very sensitive to weather change. There is no pain though…but I randomly start sneezing a lot. ?

  9. Issues like these make some of us come to realization of how blessed we are. I sometimes shower twice a day, do most of the things listed here without a second thought and here are some people going through pains while doing it.
    Sending good vibes and best wishes to them.

  10. Lyosha Varezhkina

    that is so useful! I had chronic pain before (and I forever thankful I no longer have it, my condition got a lot better at least for now). I used to keep diary at first where I wrote down any moments when I felt worse or if I didn’t see any obvious reason I wrote everything around the moment I felt worse down (30 min may be) to finally see patterns. it helped a ton because often it wasn’t just something one but a combination. For example sometimes I felt worse after shopping, sometimes not. With a diary I found out that a combination of long queue and grabbing products from upper shelves (I had to stay on my toe to take items because I am short) caused pain. Queue alone was harmless for me no matter how long, Shelves on the other might be an issue but it depended on number of movements. Sleep might be a funny issue if condition is tied with spinal cord, or muscles or joints. Basically everybody feel better after a good sleep but in that case you can not sleep longer than some limited time risking feeling well slept but beaten with pain.

    1. Thank you, Lyosha. I am glad you found keeping a diary helpful. Sometimes simply everyday tasks can trigger pain, and the only way to find out is by keeping a diary like this. I’m so glad you’re not dealing with pain any longer. I really hope it stays away.

  11. A pain diary can be so useful, especially when you visit the doctor. We sometimes downplay our pain, so it’s better to be able to go back and see what it was actually like.

  12. I feel like gluten is the devil when it comes to controlling pain from inflammatory conditions. As hard as it is and despite testing negative for gluten intolerance and sensitivity, I avoid it as much as possible.

    1. I sometimes wonder about the accuracy of some tests. My blood test for coeliac was borderline. Some doctors would have dismissed it but my doctor wanted further testing due to my pain and other symptoms. I had an endoscopy and biopsies were taken from my stomach. Biopsies showed severe damage from the gluten. The result didn’t correlate with the blood test.
      In the end, you need to do what feels right for yourself.

  13. angienh86

    Thanks for the info! I’ve been thinking about starting a diary to track my anxiety which usually triggers my migraines. This was great info!

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  15. hopeful59

    I totally agree with keeping a pain diary. I have for years. I also use it to make sure I don’t overmedicate ( really ?) . I have chronic migraine and my right trigeminal nerve, the main one always gets inflamed. Tried injections to the nerve and had 8 blissful days of no migraine. My pain management doctor didn’t repeat. Said not enough to validate authorization from insurance. I have fibromyalgia, and arthritis in my joints and spine post three cervical spine fusions and one c- mobi disc implant. I can tell you when it’s going to rain before the weatherman. Depression fits into all of this. The fibro fog, having to cancel or reschedule plans, you lose friends or people you thought we’re friends. Real ones stick and are teachable to be educated about your disease. Meditation and prayer, scripture helps, grandchildren, my children, my best friend, this post. I do keep my own individual charts for each doctor I see. It helps both of us. They see so many people and I have too many problems. I forget otherwise. I do try very hard to look at the glass half full. I have many blessings and am grateful for all of them. Thank you again for this post and allowing me to ramble. Hugs and love. ?

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