The Pain Scale: What Does It Really Mean?

By now, you’ve likely heard of the pain scale. We may have asked you to report your pain using numbers. Yet, it’s important to understand just how this medical tool is used most efficiently. First, patients are asked to rate their pain on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 is no pain and 10 is the worst pain you can imagine. Some offices and hospitals use a chart with line drawings of a face that changes from smiling to crying. This helps with patients who are not able to communicate well, like children or the elderly, but it may not be accurate enough. So often patients are unsure how to report their pain between the two extremes of 0 and 10. If it hurts a lot, but I’m coping, does that mean it’s a 5? Or 3? Or an 8?
Pain is subjective. One person could report that something doesn’t bother them at all, while another with the same physical problem could be in agonizing pain. Researchers know that the pain scale helps communicate a challenging and important piece of the puzzle, but there’s not a lot of information on how to use the scale. You might see slightly different interpretations of the pain scale, but most match up.

Here are our explanations to help you figure out how to rate your pain.
0 – Pain Free

1 – You’re aware of the pain, but it doesn’t prevent normal activities
2 – It distracts you and you may feel sporadic pangs or aches
3 – Pain is more present than sporadic, but it is possible to adjust to it.

4 – Possible to forget about it for a time if involved with something.
5 – Pain can’t be forgotten, but you can still join in some activities.
6 – Stronger pain that restricts the activities of daily living. There may be problems with thinking and problem solving.

7 – Pain is the overwhelming sensation, and it limits your ability to complete typical activities of daily living. At this stage, the pain is likely to cause problems with sleep.
8 – Intense. Moving, talking, sitting are all very difficult, if not impossible. (Childbirth is often cited as an 8)
9 – Agonizing pain. Unable to talk. You may moan or cry.
10 – Unbearable and incapacitating. You may be very confused or hallucinate. This is rare and very serious.

Fortunately, very few people can say they have felt pain as a 10 on the pain scale. Sometimes patients come in to an office and say that their pain is a 10. Yet, if they can say it, their pain is not a 10.
You are welcome to bring this list with you to better clarify your symptoms. Yet, it might help to remember that 0 is no pain, 1-3 is mild pain that doesn’t interfere with your daily activities, 4-6 is moderate pain that does interfere with your activities, and 7-10 is severe and significantly prevents normal function. Remember that 10 is quite rare.
Knowing the pain scale will help your doctor understand what your body is trying to communicate.
For pain is just that: your body is telling you that something is wrong. Don’t ignore it. Don’t discount it. Spend some time to accurately understand it and inform your doctor, so it can be addressed appropriately.

photo of Butterfly in the garden, by Ann Mallen
This Monarch hatched in our back yard.
May you always find joy in the beauty of nature.

Doctor, Cure Thyself – from Dr. Ed Mallen, DC

Ed Mallen Chiropractor, West Palm Beach, FLThe inspiration for this newsletter’s topic came from a patient who had reversed the pain scale, and we realized we’d failed to educate properly about this important tool.

Medical professionals of all kinds utilize some version of the pain scale to understand and document a patient’s pain. Yet, problems can arise if the patient doesn’t understand the ratings. The explanations included in this newsletter offer a lot of information about how to rank what you’re feeling. You may notice that the descriptions focus mostly on how the pain affects your daily life.

It’s also important, though, for me to know the characteristic of your pain. For instance, does it burn, buzz, stab, ache, throb?
Is it sharp or dull? Would you characterize it as a tingling or a numbness? Some people don’t realize that those are considered pain as well. You should also tell me whether it a constant pain or one that comes and goes. These things are clues to the possible cause of a patient’s pain.

We hope to get you back to the status of 0 (no pain), but this isn’t always realistic. Still, in cases where pain remains chronic, we will aim for levels 1-3 which won’t impact your life significantly.

Remember, too, that stress aggravates nearly all pain, so we will often discuss stress management techniques.

Many modalities in the office can treat your pain, but you’ll have to take your homework seriously too. I often prescribe exercises and things you can do on your own. For the best results, we will work together. Yet, the first thing is for you to accurately rate your pain and report what it feels like.

To a New Year of health, as pain-free as possible!

December Special

20% off:
All pain relief products (Wobenzym, Trauma, Xyflamend, and Pain Relief) through the New Year!

Valid through December 31, 2016

Mallen Chiropractic wishes you and your family a healthy happy Holiday Season full of new growth and joy!