Chronic Pain

Using the Pain Scale with Your Doctor

Source: WebMD

Chronic pain is difficult to quantify. The only person who truly understands the intensity of the low back pain, nerve pain, arthritis or migraine is the person experiencing it. Another aspect making it difficult to measure is what one person considers painful another may not. This is where the “pain scale” comes into play.”

Enter the Pain Scale

Since people feel pain differently, doctors have started using pain scales. Most scales range from 0 (pain-free) to 10 (excruciating pain). By telling the doctor a specific number, they can gauge how each person feels on an individual, case by case basis.

Pain scales are a relatively simple concept, but are quite beneficial for those who have difficulty verbally expressing how they feel. Examples would be young children and those with cognitive impairments. In these instances, the pain scale may have numbered cartoon faces, ranging from smiling to weeping.

To utilize the pain scale properly, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Think about the worst pain they have ever experienced in their lives. This is the benchmark for the pain they are currently experiencing. 
  2. Evaluate the pain felt over the past week and assign numbers for when it felt its worst, the least painful, and the average pain felt during that time frame.
  3. Assign a number to an acceptable pain level. (Of course the preferred “acceptable” number is zero, but that may not be possible in all cases.)

Pain scales are a great way for individuals to gauge how they are feeling on a daily basis. They can also indicate any improvements over time, or if their treatments aren’t working as well as hoped and need to be adjusted.

When talking to a pain specialist, giving detailed information can help determine the best methods of treatment, as well as determining the cause of the pain:

  • Is the pain worse certain times of the day?
  • Is it a constant, dull ache?
  • Do you experience shooting pain? If so, when? Where?
  • Does the pain wake you up at night or prevent you from sleeping?
  • Do certain activities make the pain worse or alleviate it?
  • Do you respond to certain treatments better than others?
  • How long does the worst pain typically last? 

When answering these questions, it’s important to rate them on the pain scale as well. These and other questions can help the doctor and are key to effective treatment.

Treating chronic pain takes time and patience. By utilizing the pain scale and answering key questions, a person can better gauge what triggers the pain and learn to avoid those activities.