Pain Scales

Doctors and other health practitioners need a way to assess the pain level of an individual. This led to the development of pain scales and pain inventories. These scales are designed to be useful in cases of acute and chronic pain. Since the pain experience of each person is subjective, scales allow for pain to be compared, such as between different people with the same condition, different people undergoing the same treatment, or for the same person at different times.

There are different types of pain scales and the type of information the scale gathers often depends on the scale. Information gathered includes, but is not limited to: pain severity, duration, pain type, and emotional impact. An “ideal pain assessment tool would produce a numeric score or other objective metric, be easy to administer, be readily understood by patients, and yield reproducible results with good specificity and sensitivity.” (Practical Pain Management)
Pain scales can be divided into include unidimensional and multidimensional.

Unidimensional or single-dimensional pain scales are scales which only measure one item, the intensity of an individual’s pain. This type of pain scale is extremely useful when gauging acute pain. In cases of chronic pain, it can oversimplify the pain that an individual is experiencing. Examples of this type of pain scale include: Visual Analog Scale (VAS), Wong-Baker Scale, and Numeric Rating Scales (NRS).

Multidimensional pain scales are by their nature more complex to fill out and take more time to complete. These scales can measure everything from pain intensity, pain type, pain location, effect on mood, anxiety, depression, and every day function. This type of scale is much more appropriate for individuals with chronic pain, instead of single-dimensional scales. Examples of this type of pain scale include: McGill pain questionnaire (MPQ), Brief pain inventory (BPI), and Indiana Polyclinic combined pain scale (IPCPS).