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Why Numeric ‘Pain Scales’ Fall Short

If you’ve ever been to the hospital or a doctor’s office, you’ve almost certainly been asked: “What’s your current pain level on a scale of 0 to 10?” Or maybe you’ve been asked to rate your pain on a visual scale by pointing to the smiley (or frowny) face that best describes your pain. These aren’t necessarily the wrong questions to ask – but doctors should be asking for a lot more information in order to accurately evaluate a patient’s level of pain.

The Problem with Conventional Pain Scales

Conventional pain scales can be useful for analyzing and tracking a person’s pain over time. But as you know, pain is a subjective experience. These scales don’t measure how pain impacts daily life.

Only thinking about pain on a 0-10 scale can also place a misguided if not well-meaning emphasis on getting a patient to “zero” amount of pain. This might be possible – but it’s not likely, and it can create unrealistic expectations from both the doctor and the patient. 

How Pain Management Specialists Ask About Pain

Pain management specialists know they need to ask detailed questions about a patient’s pain. Their goal is to gain a better understanding of a patient’s subjective experience, their beliefs about pain (which may even have cultural influences), their goals and expectations regarding their pain, and ultimately, what’s causing and contributing to their painful symptoms.

Questions about pain that you may hear from your pain management doctor include:

  • Can you describe what your pain feels like? 
  • Can you give me some examples of how your pain affects your daily life?
  • Does your pain wake you up at night?
  • What makes your pain better or worse?
  • What are your biggest goals, fears, and beliefs about your pain?

These and other questions allow a pain management specialist to truly understand how pain affects their patients. With this knowledge, doctors can create a treatment plan that focuses not just on short-term solutions, but on improving the patient’s overall quality of life.

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RECENT POSTS

December 1, 2021
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