Medical Finnish – Understanding your patients

Medical Finnish - Understanding your patients

In the Finnish language, there are many ways to describe pain. As a healthcare professional, you probably hear different kinds of pain-related expressions all the time. Understanding the meaning of them is crucial as these descriptive words tell you a lot about the symptoms the patient is experiencing.

What is specific in the Finnish language when describing pain?

The most common words for pain are kipu (pain) and särky (ache).

Viime aikoina minulla on ollut lihaskipua. Lately I have had muscular pain.
Viime aikoina minulla on ollut lihassärkyä. Lately I have had muscular pain.

There is not much of a difference between these words, and usually, it’s possible to use whichever. However, sometimes one is more common than the other.

Minulla on ollut vatsakipua. Minulla on ollut vatsasärkyä.
Minulla on ollut hammassärkyä. Minulla on ollut hammaskipua.

To describe pain, people often use verbs instead of nouns. As a health care professional, you probably hear verbs like särkeä, jomottaa, kivistää, and kolottaa. Their meaning is the same: to ache.

Minun päätä särkee. I have a headache.
Minun selkää jomottaa. My back aches.
Minun päätä kivistää. My head aches.
Minun polvia kolottaa. My knees are aching.

There are also verbs like aristaa, kirvellä, and vihloa. These verbs describe a particular type of pain.

Leikkaushaavaa aristaa. The surgical wound is sore.
Leikkaushaavaa kirvelee. The surgical wound stings.
Hampaita vihloo. I have shooting pain in my teeth.

All of these pain describing verbs have specific uses. As you can see in the examples listed above, the aching body parts are in the partitive case, and the verbs are conjugated in the third person singular.

Explaining the pain is somewhat different in medical texts. In medical orders, reports, and research papers, authors and contributors describe pain with adjectives and nouns.

Potilaalla ahdistavaa kipua rinnassa. The patient (has) an oppressive pain in their chest.

Some of the most common pain describing adjectives

Finnish English
Aristava Sore
Ahdistava Oppressive
Jomottava Aching
Kolottava Aching
Kirvelevä Smarting
Kivistävä Aching
Pistelevä Tingling
Polttava Burning
Puuduttava Numbing
Sykkivä Throbbing
Särkevä Aching
Vihlova Shooting
Viiltävä Stabbing
Jatkuva Continuous
Äkillinen Acute

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Accuracy in assessing a patient’s needs is essential, and so developing the knowledge to understand exactly how they are feeling cannot be understated.

To assist healthcare professionals further, we provide Medical Finnish language courses to go beyond vocabulary and grammar to truly prepare you for work in a hospital or medical facility in Finland. To understand the important difference of our courses, please read more about them here.

Pain symptoms vocabulary