How to measure pain? | Day 260

If you’ve ever complained to your doctor about a pain, or have been to an emergency room, you were probably asked how strong your pain was from zero to ten, with ten being “worst pain imaginable,” and zero being “no pain.”

This is known as the Numeric Pain Rating Scale. Because pain is such a subjective experience, it needs to be self-reported, so that a doctor can figure out how to deal with your issue. Quantifying a subjective experience is the easiest way to do this.

However, the numeric scale is not the only one available. On top of that, it only tells you about the severity of the pain, but nothing else – whether it’s sharp or stabbing, whether it comes and goes. For this reason more comprehensive questionnaires are used, such as this one. There is also the problem of how different people experience pain – what I might find only mildly uncomfortable, my squeamish friend may find close to excruciating, or vice versa. Hence in the emergency room a doctor or nurse will keep coming back to that rating, to see whether you are deteriorating or not.

Another common pain measuring tool is the one featured in the photo above, the Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale. It was designed specifically for children, or otherwise patients who can’t verbalise and describe the pain as accurately as a doctor would need. I think I prefer that one over the numeric one, but I’ve never actually encountered it.

My favourite one is not actually a scale devised for a clinical setting, although it could very well be used in one. After all, emergency rooms are pretty drab places.

It’s created by Allie Brosh, the author of web comic Hyperbole and a Half.


allie brosh pain scale
Pain scale devised by Allie Brosh ©

0:  Hi.  I am not experiencing any pain at all.  I don’t know why I’m even here.

1:  I am completely unsure whether I am experiencing pain or itching or maybe I just have a bad taste in my mouth.

2:  I probably just need a Band Aid.

3:  This is distressing.  I don’t want this to be happening to me at all.

4:  My pain is not fucking around.

5:Why is this happening to me??

6:Ow.  Okay, my pain is super legit now.

7:  I see Jesus coming for me and I’m scared.

8:  I am experiencing a disturbing amount of pain.  I might actually be dying.  Please help.

9:  I am almost definitely dying.

10:  I am actively being mauled by a bear.

11: Blood is going to explode out of my face at any moment.

Overall, there are many pain measurement scales. This incomplete Wikipedia list is just an example.

I personally think the Hyperbole and a Half one should be universally adopted.

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