Pain Scale

ECard on pain.

Pain is really weird. It is subjective, not objective, but it is still frequently necessary to categorise it in a simple system. Hence the “rate your pain from 1-10.” I’ve always found that scale really difficult to use, as I’ve never been sure if I am over-estimating, or under-estimating, how I am feeling. 

Samantha from Sex and the City at an auction.
When doctors ask you to rate your pain out of ten…

Some people might feel a broken arm as a 4 that another person may experience as a 7, but that broken arm is still only a 4 for that person (whether due to pain management techniques/coping mechanisms, their brain just being naturally better at dealing with pain, etc.), and to categorise it otherwise only makes it difficult to achieve an accurate diagnosis, as you don’t have enough numbers at the top end of the scale when you need them.

Having said all that, I find the scale below helps me to step back and evaluate what level my pain is – even when I don’t have the mental capacity to compare and contrast to previous pain experiences. That’s super helpful when you consider that severe pain kills concentration.

So here it is, an objective system for discussing a subjective experience.

0 – Pain free. Obviously. This is (much to my surprise) what most people experience most of the time.

Mild Pain – This pain doesn’t really interfere with your daily life, but it is annoying and will nag at the back of your mind.

Penny from Big Bang Theory

1 – Very mild pain. This pain is barely noticeable, and you don’t think about it most of the time.

2 – Minor pain. This pain is annoying, and might has the occasional strong twinge, but for the most part it’s only there when you are thinking about it.

3 – Distracting pain. This is the point at which your pain becomes consistently noticeable and distracting, however at this stage you are still able to adapt to it and continue your regular activities.

Moderate Pain – This is where your pain Interferes significantly with your daily activities.

Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation.

4 – Moderate pain. You can ignore this level of pain for a period of time when you are immersed in an activity, but it is still distracting.

5 – Moderately strong pain. You are still able to work or socialise to some extent with effort, but you can’t ignore this pain for more than a few minutes.

6 – Strong pain. You have serious difficulty concentrating at this stage, and your pain interferes with your normal activities. You’re thinking about the pain all the time, even if you can focus on something else for a little while.

Severe Pain – This is where pain becomes disabling, and leaves you unable to perform basic daily tasks. 

Santana Lopez from Glee.

7 – Severe pain. Your ability to complete daily activities and socialise is significantly limited, and the pain affects your sleep. Your senses are dominated by pain.

8 – Intense pain. Your ability to be physically active is severely limited, and it is difficult to converse. It is difficult to think of anything but the pain.

9 – Excruciating pain. You are likely crying out or making other noises of distress such as uncontrollable moaning. At this point you are unable to converse. Pain is all you can think about.

10 – Unspeakable pain. You are possibly delirious at this point, and certainly bedridden. Most people, thankfully, will never experience this level of pain. If someone is in this much pain, they need you to take them to the emergency room.


Thoughts? Feelings? Other ways to rate your pain? Post them in the comments below!

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2 thoughts on “Pain Scale

  1. I just recently wrote about this. I completely agree on how subjective pain is. I also find the pain scale itself to be subjective because everyone is capable of different things at different pain levels (and even same person, same pain level but only a different cause). Severity/lack thereof does not always match the pain scale’s expected effect.

    I’ve settled with figuring out what’s the worst pain I’ve experienced so far – then assigned it the highest # on the scale that I have ever rated pain. When pain strikes,compare it to that experience and see where it is on the scale.

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    1. Very true – I must admit the reason I find it so helpful to write it out like this is that when I’m up the higher end of the scale I’m not very good at thinking clearly enough to run comparisons. Probably a happy combination of poor memory and pain fog! But while I seem to have a clear knowledge of what a nine is (and I’ve never been a ten), I can get a bit muddled up until then haha. Thank you for sharing what works for you!!

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