How to Make a Pain Journal After a Traffic Accident

Victims of severe traffic accidents will often use pain journals to document the suffering they experience in the days and weeks following the crash.

Pain journals are useful documents that can help give a personal touch to your personal injury case.

Effectively, a pain journal is a written record of any discomfort or pain you felt after performing certain activities in the days and weeks following your accident.

Further, there are actually two different types of pain journals.

Or, rather, pain journals have two separate purposes which can change their formatting considerably:

  • First, to record any information related to your actual injuries. This information can help your doctor during your recovery.
  • Second, to record any information related to a potential future personal injury case. If, due to the factors of your case, you need to hire an attorney to negotiate for damages, having such a record can greatly help your lawyer with your personal injury claim.

For the medical side of things, you should generally consult with your doctor for what to include in such a journal.

The formatting and contents of these medical pain journals will depend on the recommendations of your doctor, so you’ll want to listen to their advice on the matter.

On the personal injury side of things, you’ll generally want to use your journal to preserve any evidence related to injuries you received as a result of the accident.

Or, put more simply, the easiest way to record the pain and suffering you experienced as a result of the accident is to take notes on your pain and suffering.

Any information you collect in this journal will be an essential part of your personal injury lawsuit (should such a suit become necessary).

It will also demonstrate the extent of your injuries and damages, while also providing information on how long these injuries affected your life.

In this article, we’ll explore the basics of how you can make a pain journal after a traffic accident.

However, as with the medical journal we noted above, the specific information you include in your pain journal will often depend on your case.

Always speak with an attorney before you make any lasting decisions in your case.

How to Start a Pain Journal

an example of a very basic pain journal for a knee injury. the image shows a spreadsheet with entries for various instances of injury flare-up as a way of showing what a full pain journal should look like.
A very basic example of an Excel spreadsheet pain journal for a knee injury.

You have three basic choices for starting your own pain journal:

  • Write everything down on pen and paper.
  • Download an app that does the work for you.
  • Record the data and information yourself in a program like Microsoft Excel (my personal preference).

Each of these choices has various pros and cons, but the most important point is that you should choose the format you’re most comfortable with.

After all, a pain journal is effectively worthless if you forget to fill it in on a regular basis.

What to Include in Your Pain Journal

As we noted above, the information you include in your pain journal will often depend on the facts in your case.

However, at a bare minimum, your pain journal should include a variety of different ways for you to keep track of your pain and activity levels.

Specifically, a thorough pain journal will help you remember important details about your case that you might otherwise forget in the months and years following the accident.

In this way, you may find it helpful to think of your pain journal as a way to keep track of any information you might forget in the future, rather than as a simple diary of your life after the crash.

For example, consider the following two statements:

  • “I experienced a great deal of pain in my knee in the days following the accident. This pain inhibited my daily life.”
  • “In the first three days after the accident, the pain in my knee kept me from going to work. I had to take [Example Prescription] twice a day to manage my pain, and I couldn’t even make my way to the kitchen to make breakfast on any of these three days.”

While the first statement is fine, it lacks the detail that would render it compelling in a personal injury case.

On the other hand, the second statement provides a higher level of detail that often comes with written records, giving it a greater level of credibility.

Basically, the whole point of the pain journal is so that you can write down information with a greater level of detail than you might remember several weeks or months in the future.

A Few Common Elements of Pain Journals

In this fashion, there are several common elements that appear in most pain journals.

Often, these elements are ways for you to record the greater level of detail noted above that might be helpful in your personal injury case.

As a few of the most common on this list:

  • Date – For obvious reasons, it’s important to record the date and time of each entry.
  • Specific Location of the Pain, and Any Related Activities – You should also make note of where you feel the pain. This is often paired with a description of of the activity you were performing when you experienced the pain. For example, “I experienced a sharp pain in my left shoulder after sitting for too long.” Information such as this can help support patterns of pain and suffering in your case.
  • Pain Scale Rating – Most journals include a “scale rating” for the pain that you’re experiencing. This is usually on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being no pain at all and 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever experienced.
  • Medication Information – More commonly used in medical pain journals, it may also be helpful to keep track of any medication you take as a result of the pain. Information on when you last took medication could also be helpful.
  • Effects on Your Daily Life – Finally, you should also keep track of any effects that the injury has on your daily life. Even if these inconveniences seem small to you, these changes in your daily routine can add up to significant levels over time. “My husband had to take a day off work to drive me to the doctor,” “I could not lift my child because of pain in arm,” and “I had trouble sleeping because of the pain” are all examples which bring a personal touch to your personal injury case.

More thorough pain journals may include information such as notes about appointments with medical professionals, details about “missed opportunities” (such as having to skip a social event), and even daily or weekly progress photos of your injuries.

The only real limit on the amount of information you include in your journal is your ability to maintain the same level of detail in all subsequent entries.

What Not to Include in Your Pain Journal

To expand a bit on the medical/legal distinction we made above, you should remember that your final goal for a personal injury pain journal should be to submit it as evidence in your personal injury case.

This means that, unlike when creating a medical pain journal, you should be especially careful about what you write in your personal injury pain journal, as small details that may seem minor at first could sink your entire case.

To list two common examples:

  • Be Careful When Making Notes on Exercise Restrictions — For example, if you write, “I tried to go running today but experienced pain in my knee after jogging for a few minutes,” the insurance adjuster will only see the phrase “I tried to go running today.” The defense could pick out this fact and argue that you felt well enough to go running despite the pain, so the pain must not have been that bad.
  • Avoid Overwhelming Details: Be Concise — Despite the name, your pain journal is not your actual journal. For this reason, you should only include information relating to your injury. Adding excess information will only overwhelm the real point of your pain journal, and may even make some of the other details less valuable during your negotiations.

The Importance of Consistency

Remember, consistency is one of the most important elements of a useful pain journal.

If you miss a week, or if you change the style of your entries each time, the defense may raise questions about the credibility of your journal.

In general, you should have daily entries for the first month or two following the accident.

After that, you can usually get away with weekly status updates which summarize how your injuries affected your life during that week.

Upgrade Your Personal Injury Case by Making a Personal Injury Binder

male hand choosing new green ring binder file folder for new pain journal.

Attorneys build personal injury cases using a wide variety of supporting evidence.

For this reason, your pain journal will only be a small part of your overall personal injury case.

In this way, it may be helpful for you to keep your pain journal alongside other important pieces of evidence, such as medical bills and accident reports.

However, as you might imagine, it can be hard to stay organized in the days and weeks following a serious traffic accident.

A common solution to this problem is to create a personal injury binder.

Basically, your binder should include copies of all the information related to your case, from photos and bills to contact information for any eyewitnesses.

If you keep track of your information online, your binder can also serve as a local backup for your evidence, which may prove vital in the event of data loss.

The Basic Elements of a Personal Injury Binder

Your personal injury binder should include any and all information that an attorney may ask you for as part of your personal injury case.

For this reason, your personal injury binder should include, but is not limited to:

  • Insurance information for both yourself and the other driver (as well as for other drivers if more than two cars were involved).
  • Any medical bills relating to the accident or the injuries caused by the accident. This includes information about every time you visited a doctor for an injury caused by (or related to) the accident.
  • Notes and receipts for any significant trips you made for injuries caused by the accident (such as if you drove two hours to see a specialist).
  • Pay stubs, tax information, and any other information relating to lost wages.
  • Copies of any reports about the accident (medical reports, police reports, accident reports). Additionally, you should write your own description of the accident. Make sure to include details about the road quality, the weather conditions, and any other details about the crash that you think may be relevant.
  • A hand-drawn picture of how the accident occurred (this is a common element that many attorneys ask for).
  • Printed out copies of any communications you had with the other driver, their insurance company, or their attorney.
  • Contact information for any eyewitnesses of the crash.
  • Any notes or prescriptions provided to you by your doctor, as well as the contact information for any doctors or other medical professionals that treated you.
  • Any repair bills for your vehicle, as well as an itemized list of any other property damaged in the crash.
  • A up-to-date copy of your pain journal.

Remember, most of these elements are things that your attorney will ask for anyway, so having them in a central location will only make your entire personal injury both quicker and easier.


close up of a woman writing down details in a journal after a traffic accident.

A pain journal is a written record of the pain and suffering caused by a traffic accident.

In the days and weeks following an accident, it’s often wise to keep such a journal that details any and all pain and suffering caused by the crash.

However, the sheer amount of information can often be overwhelming, so it’s recommended that you speak with an attorney about your case as soon as possible after the accident.

Remember, the whole point of these documents is to strengthen your personal injury case.

For this reason, only an attorney who has reviewed all the facts of your case can give you accurate advice on what to do in your particular situation.

A pain journal will allow you to remain truthful and accurate about your personal pain level and the impact of the injuries of your accident on your daily life no matter how long and drawn out your particular case may be. 

Remember, don’t lie, be concise and consistent, save everything, and keep your lawyer informed.

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