What is the Pain Scale?

Pain scales are used to assess the amount of pain that a patient is experiencing in a medical setting, such as a clinic or a hospital emergency room. The main reason they are widely used is to aid in getting the patient to self-report the amount of pain they are experiencing. When a medical professional is assessing and treating a patient’s pain, whether it is acute or chronic pain, the best source for how much pain a patient is experiencing is to ask the patient. There is no objective test for pain level.

There are a wide variety of pain scales that are used in practice, from very simple pain scales to more detailed charts that ask more questions to refine the type of pain that a patient is experiencing. The simple graphic pain scales are very useful because they can be used with young children, mentally disabled persons and people who do not speak the same language as their medical practitioners.

The most common graphical pain scale is called the Wong-Baker FACES pain scale (http://www.intelihealth.com/i/W/WongPainScale.gif). This pain scale shows a series of cartoon faces over the numbers 0 through 5. The emotions of the faces correspond to the pain level depicted, where a happy face is no pain and a crying sad face is high pain. The patient will then point to the pain rating that corresponds to their own pain level. This chart is helpful for young children, but it is more difficult to assess pain level in infants, so doctors and nurses have to watch them carefully for signs of distress.

Another common pain scale that is used with people who are capable of understanding it is a verbal 1 to 10 numerical scale. A doctor will ask the patient directly for this information instead of having them point to a chart. A pain rating of 0 means that the patient is experiencing no pain. A pain rating of 1 to 3 means that there is some mild pain, but it is not preventing the person from performing their daily activities. A pain level of 4 to 7 represents a pain rating that is moderate and can interfere with a person’s daily activities. A pain level of 8 to 10 represents a pain level that is disabling and prevents a person from being able to accomplish their daily activities.

Pain scales are a useful clinical tool to help medical professionals communicate with their patients to obtain their self-reported pain level. Pain scales are versatile and can obtain very simple information about a patient’s pain level in an emergency or more detailed information about how the pain is manifesting.


  • http://pain.about.com/od/testingdiagnosis/ig/pain-scales/
  • http://www.nursingtimes.net/nursing-practice/clinical-zones/pain-management/assessment-of-pain/1861174.article
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