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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


December 16, 2011 Posted by | blog, Personal, thoughts | 32 Comments


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