The Pain Scale And Talking About Your Pain

Pain Scale

When it comes to chronic pain, every case is unique. Some people may be in severe pain without showing any outward signs of it. A level of pain that one person may report as a 6 might be a 2 for others. Because there are no tests to truly determine how much a person is suffering, your doctor is forced to rely primarily on the information you give them.

“Pain is always personal,” says F. Michael Ferrante, MD, director of the UCLA Pain Management Center in Los Angeles. “It’s invisible to other people looking at you — and that can lead to a lot mistrust and difficulties.”

Doctors often resort to a “pain scale” to gain information, asking patients to assess how much they’re hurting on a scale of 1-10. But just because it feels like a 10 when you lift your shoulder doesn’t mean it actually is. Learn how to communicate your level of pain using the pain scale, as well as how to effectively explain your symptoms so that you receive an appropriate treatment plan.

1-3 (Mild Pain)

This level is pain can be an inconvenience, but doesn’t truly stop you from completing daily activities. Lower levels of mild pain are barely noticeable, while higher levels might be distracting enough to force you to adapt and work around it.

4-6 (Moderate Pain)

This level of pain impedes on your ability to complete day-to-day tasks. Lower levels of moderate pain can only be ignored for brief periods of time, while higher levels can result in intense discomfort that makes it difficult to focus on anything else.

7-10 (Severe Pain)

This level of pain is truly disabling and renders you unable to perform any daily living activities. The highest levels of pain can even make it impossible for you to sleep, speak or even get out of bed. Some people who have experienced severe pain have also reported being delirious as a result. Immediate medical attention should be sought if any of these signs occur.

How To Talk About Your Pain

It’s important to be as specific as you can. For example, a dull pain is likely caused by a tissue injury such as arthritis. A shooting pain is likely caused by a nerve injury that could result from a number of different conditions, including carpal tunnel syndrome and diabetes. You should also be prepared to talk about when your pain started, if it’s progressed or worsened since then and if any particular activities exacerbate it.

How Not To Talk About Your Pain

Avoid exaggerations. If your doctor asks you to assess your pain on a scale of 1-10 and you rate it as a 12, they’re less likely to take you seriously. If you’re able to laugh or make jokes during your examination, you shouldn’t be rating your pain at anything beyond a 3. People in truly severe pain can often barely speak, let alone be funny.

Conversely, it’s just as unhelpful to minimize your pain levels. The doctor’s office is not a place for you to be a warrior. If you’re hurting, say so. Your physician can only treat you based on the information you provide.