How To Use A Pain Scale Chart

I first was given a pain scale chart about fifteen years ago. I thought if you didn’t put a high number it meant you had no pain. I didn’t know how to read a pain scale chart and believe me when I tell you, that if you don’t follow it like it is intended….doctors will think you are faking. If you tell them on a pain scale chart that is 1-10 that your pain is a 30….the doctors will start disbelieving you have any pain.

I was fortunate some years ago to have a pain management doctor who gave me a chart similar to this one. He explained step by step but the chart also described what is meant by each number. It made it so much easier to tell them my real pain once I learned this chart. He was the doctor that was helping me with my disability claim.

This chart comes from  and is typical of most detailed pain charts you see. Mayo Clinic Chronic Pain lists their pain scale like this:

0-1 No pain
2-3 Mild pain
4-5 Discomforting – moderate pain
6-7 Distressing – severe pain
8-9 Intense – very severe pain
10 Unbearable pain

According to Jack Harich….”One complaint about this scale is “Patients tend to use the middle words and thus distort the assessment.”   So, they made a more comprehensive scale so that patients truly understood what the pain scale meant. This scale helped me give my doctors a better analysis of my pain. It also helped me with my disability claim for I could accurately tell them my pain scale. This is very important if you want help managing your pain.My pain management doctor told me the pain scales were created to get an accurate view of a patient’s pain so that it could be treated and helped.

Here is the detailed pain scale:

The Comparative Pain Scale

By Jack Harich – July 14, 2002

I had to laugh the first time I read a comprehensive pain scale for I realized that my idea that a pain level of 5 was nothing or just ‘normal” pain was so far from the truth it was laughable. A pain level of 5 is :

Strong, deep, piercing pain, such as a sprained ankle when you stand on it wrong, or mild back pain. Not only do you notice the pain all the time, you are now so preoccupied with managing it that you normal lifestyle is curtailed. Temporary personality disorders are frequent.

That doesn’t sound like nothing, does it. You are so preoccupied with curtailing this pain of level 5 that your normal lifestyle is curtailed. I realized then that a pain level of five was significant.

I remember thinking that if I did not put a high number…no one would listen to me and the truth of the matter was….they were not listening because I was not showing the signs of someone suffering with pain levels of 7 and 8 at that time.  It was not until I had kidney surgery about three years ago that I realized just how close this scale runs to the truth. I had a pain level of an honest 8 after kidney surgery …..and that was with pain meds. I was in so much pain I could not eat, I could not sleep, I could barely walk..with help to the bathroom, I could not fix my food, nothing….and because of this I lost around 36 pounds in 30 days. That is how drastically that pain level affected me.

Now, my reason for posting this. If you want doctors to believe you…..truly follow the pain scale. Don’t base it on how much pain you can endure…base it on what it does to you physically…how it limits you….for that is what the doctors look at.  It may seem like your pain is just going through the roof…but if it does not limit you, or does not affect you in the ways the chart says, then look at the different levels and see what does.

I have learned to judge my pain level well…after years of chronic pain that has debilitated me. But, the first few years, I went through hell because I did not know how to talk to the doctors and make them understand. I did not know how to use a pain scale accurately and have it show that I indeed was being affected by my pain. And I did not realize that a pain level of five and six are high pains and not anything to take lightly. Therefore, they were not treating my pain like they should.

It is all in knowing the way the scale works and realizing that what we view as distressing pain is a five or six…and that these numbers do show high pain. So, try looking at the chart and rating your pain sometime by the description. We don’t get points for being able to tolerate the pain unfortunately….it is all based on what it does to us. What debilitated me may not be what debilitated you and doctors look at that. And they are keenly observant and notice things that give signs of distress.

Don’t let your pain rule you. Learn how to talk about your pain and what to tell your doctor it is doing…not just a number…but the words…so that they hear you and believe you.

My Son’s book on alternative things to do for pain. I am so proud of him. He is my caretaker. He and Dr. Sherry E. Showalter joined forces to try to help those with pain. He writes under the name “John Argent” and is now working on a crime novel. The pain book is on Amazon.

pain book


32 thoughts on “How To Use A Pain Scale Chart

  1. Pingback: Pain « Simply danLrene's Opinion

  2. I am feeling celebratory today having a pain at 4 for the first time in years! living at a 7-8 daily with bursts of 9 and 10 – yes I have passed out due to pain many times. Thanks for this scale it really shows me how strong I have been. and hope you find something that helps with your pain!

    • Thank you so much for your words. I think when we learn how to express our pain and the chart does it well and how we can show them our quality of life has been affected then maybe people can get better care for severe pain. I pray mine is helped first of Dec as I live with a 5 with pain med and I can deal with that but this shrieking pain of 8, etc….has drained me. 🙂 But I am a survivor.

  3. Pingback: Thankful for Pain - Diabetes-Take It On!

  4. Thank you for posting this. I have been suffering with chronic pain for many years now and this has finally given me the ability to understand what numbers to use. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

  5. Pingback: Pain From 1-10 | It Really IS Just That Simple

  6. Thanks, I really found this useful. I’ve been having chronic pain for three years now and it’s been impossible for me to relate my pain to my doctors. I believe this will help me much.

  7. I found your blog with this great pain chart after doing a random online search for “pain charts.” Thanks so much for posting it. I also read your “About Me” section and am very inspired by the attitude you approach your life with: “Life is what we make it and I choose to make mine happy.” Thanks for sharing your story, and I wish you all the best…sending good energy and positive vibes your way. 🙂

  8. I think this is one of the most important information
    for me. And i’m glad reading your article. But wanna remark on few general things, The site style is wonderful, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

  9. I also had a difficult time using the pain scale. When I asked what the different numbers meant in English I was told that there were no English descriptions of what each number meant. I told them I thought I was a 5, and I noticed strange looks. Eventually the P.A. told me that a 10 meant passing out from the pain. I said well I never said I was a 10. I asked her what she thought my pain level was, and she replied that she didn’t know and could not tell me. I again asked for examples of what each number meant, and again I was told that there were no descriptions, just numbers. One nurse prompted me to answer by suggesting that I explain how much I would hurt without my medicine. I told her I cannot tell you that unless I stop taking my medicine. That seemed obvious to me, but she seemed frustrated with that answer.

    Before the next visit I searched online to find a pain scale. I found one which described pain according to its effects upon concentration, activities of daily living (ADL), and it included comments indicating the medicine I was taking. For example, with pain medication, I can perform most of my ADL by taking frequent breaks. I brought with me a copy of this pain scale so one could be put in my medical chart. I always referred to that chart at each visit when answering the question at each visit.

    I hated the fact that I had to give a number which was simply meaningless to me, and that I ran the risk of being judged as an exaggerator or a drug seeker because the examiner held a secret idea of what my number meant, and secretly thought I was not being truthful.

    I still think that a numerical scale with no written explanations for each number is an idiotic idea, something decided upon by a committee. I appreciate your column on the subject.

    • I know. It is like a big secret and we have to guess. I have a great pain specialist now and when I started using the one I used on this blog, and explained how it was taking away my life..what I could not do, he told me that helped him to know my pain better than anything. I am sorry you have had the same experiences as me. They need to come up with a universal chart with WORDS that explain so that everyone is on the same page and it is understood all around.

  10. Your own write-up offers proven necessary to us. It’s extremely informative and you are certainly extremely experienced of this type.
    You have exposed my personal eye to different thoughts about this particular subject with intriquing, notable
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  11. Thank you for your blog – I really appreciate the information you’ve provided – it has really helped me with my mom – now if I could just get my Husband-Person to read it and use it, he would feel better and so would I! Again, thank you. Marie

    • I am glad it helped. Doctors do not really tell people how to judge their pain by a pain chart and I was lost for a long time until I saw this chart and then my son co-wrote a book on chronic pain with a friend that is a therapist and talked about things to help with pain besides a pain pill.

  12. This is excellent. I learned a great deal from it. I live with chronic excruciating pain and have stated my pain level at 10 many times, but I’ve never lost consciousness from my pain. So, I’ve told him wrong. My Rheum finally did without asking anyone about their level of pain based on a 1-10 scale as he realized we didn’t know how to tell him in a way that he could truly understand. Now I understand why he has stopped asking his patients. I will share this with him, as well as my Pain Doc. Thanks so much!

    • I learned a lot from it too Anthony and I wish all doctors used it for it is the best way to explain pain to me. I learned also to tell them how it was affecting what I could do. Some days my pain makes it where I can not leave my bed and can not even take care of basic needs like food or dressing and other times it just limits what I can do. I hope your doc likes it. Let me know. 🙂

    • I used to like that too until my health got like it was and getting the doctors to understand just how much pain I had and that I had more than one kind of pain was hard. Many doctors are not really keyed into chronic pain.

    • I think the face one would be good for aches and pains that people suffer as part of life but not so much for Chronic pain that is debilitating you..which is what i suffer with. I need my doctor to know that it is restricting my activities, etc.

  13. My aunt who suffered greatly from polio said there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who have experienced unbearable pain and those who have not. And there is a break in understanding between the two.

  14. Hi I have never understood the pain chart before ether. I always say it is much less pain because it never can be the worst as there will always be worse coming in the future I figured. LOL now I know. ty for letting me know this.

    • thanks marg. It really does help when trying to get the point across to the doctor. Telling him a pain level of 7 does not do near as much as telling them it has stopped your life and you can’t do anything without help. hugs hon

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