How to Interpret the Pain Scale

Pain in side

Pain is a deeply personal and subjective experience. Because of this, it’s surprisingly difficult to truly describe your pain to another person, particularly those in the healthcare field. So when someone asks you how much pain you are in, how can you answer in a way that they can understand?

With pain being a major point of discussion in so many health appointments, doctors have developed a pain scale meant to help patients do that very thing. Whether you plan on visiting a pain clinic in Pittsburgh or a hospital in the surrounding Pittsburgh area, knowing where you fall on this pain scale can make communicating with your doctor much easier!

Measuring Your Pain

The pain scale breaks up pain into levels from 1 to 10, which describe just how much your pain affects your daily activity. These levels are grouped together into Mild, Moderate, and Severe pain.

Mild pain may be annoying and noticeable, but it doesn’t keep you from performing normal activity. Specifically:

  • At level 1, pain may be barely noticeable and easily ignored.
  • Level 2 pain is annoying and may flare into occasional stronger twinges.
  • Pain at level 3 is distracting, but you can learn to adapt to it.

Moderate pain begins to get in the way of your daily life. Specifically:

  • You may be able to push level 4 pain aside for periods while involved in a task, but it is still very distracting.
  • Level 5 pain can’t be ignored for more than a few minutes, but you can push through it with effort.
  • At level 6, the pain may make it hard for you to concentrate on regular tasks.

Severe pain can render you unable to perform normal activity. Specifically:

  • At level 7, the pain demands your attention and keeps you from performing tasks. It may even interfere with your sleep.
  • Level 8 pain is intense, limiting physical activity and even making conversation difficult.
  • Pain at level 9 leaves you unable to converse. You may just be moaning or crying uncontrollably.
  • The greatest pain, level 10, leaves you bedridden or even delirious.

Communicating with Your Doctor

Having these numbers in mind is a good place to start when describing your pain to a doctor. However, it’s important to be able to put this assessment in context. Obviously, you should tell your doctor what hurts where, with as much specific detail as you can. If you can, use words to describe differing qualities of the pain, such as:

  • Intense
  • Sharp (“stabbing,” “like a knife”)
  • Hot, or cold
  • Tender
  • Shooting, or radiating
  • Tingling, or throbbing

You should be prepared to describe your pain levels over time, as how pain changes can tell a doctor a lot about how to manage that pain. Intermittent pain comes and goes, with periods of no pain and periods of distinct pain. Variable pain may have a constant low level with periods of higher pain levels.

Finally, being able to realistically appraise your own pain using the scale above can be very helpful as doctors make a diagnosis. For example, if you are easily conversing with your doctor but say your pain is a 10, this may create a medical discrepancy that your doctor will need to take time to clarify. Taking note of how much your pain affects your daily activity, and trying to reflect that in your assessment, can speed up a diagnosis and care process

At Advanced Surgical Hospital, we take pain management seriously. Our staff work to understand your pain and determine the best treatment to make you feel as comfortable as possible. We are rated in the 99th percentile by our surgical patients in how we control pain. If you experience pain, consult your doctor about possible interventions. If you have additional questions, contact us.