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I Hate the Pain Scale

I Hate the Pain Scale

Oh, the dreaded pain scale. I’m sure you know the one I’m speaking of. It’s pretty much the same one at every doctor’s office. “On a scale of 1-10…blah, blah, blah.” Effective for short term pain, like after surgery or perhaps a broken arm. But for chronic pain, every single one I’ve had to fill out simply makes no sense at all to me. It just lacks so much.

Why I hate the pain scale

It doesn’t convey anything about my actual well-being or what I am capable of doing, despite my pain. It doesn’t tell the doctor that I can do one activity a day. It doesn’t say that I can do three things if I rest in between. It doesn’t allow for the fact that there are some days when I can only get out of bed to pee. How does all of that equate to a single number?

5.5 or 6: Such a hard choice

Even though I really like my doctor and think she is wonderful, I don’t think she even looks at what I write. Even though I spent like 10 minutes in the waiting room, wavering between 5.5 and 6. Like it actually matters which one I circle. Like it tells my doctor anything at all about the state of my pain. It doesn’t convey if my medicine is working or not. I think maybe one time I might just refuse to do it and see if anyone really notices. I’ll let you know how that goes.

There has to be a better way

I wish I could say that I had the PERFECT way to do it. But I don’t. I have ideas, thoughts, and suggestions. But even my best ones seem to be lacking so much. I think maybe we should do something like, on the average, how many “things” can you do in a day. So like, you could do one load of laundry. Or, you could make it through one day of work, with level three pain.

What can I do today?

Because really, I feel like that’s what it always comes down to. What can I do today? How long will it take me to do it? How hard is it to do? Can I do anything at all? Maybe we would be better off is we keep a chart in a planner or something similar. Then we could take that with us instead of dealing with the dreaded pain scale. I feel like I really need to sit down and develop something better. We fight our way through so many things, why can’t we do something better for this?

Help a girl out!

I’d love your help! If you could change the traditional “pain scale” to something else…something more productive and informative for your healthcare provider…what would you include? How would you set it up? What do you think is most important for your healthcare provider to know about how you are doing? I’m starting a movement, and I’d love for you to get involved! We can change the dreaded pain scale, one doctor’s office at a time.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • JenniferAdams
    3 days ago

    It’s just so subjective. Since people have different levels of pain at which they can still function. And what might be excruciating to some, might be tolerable to others. Like just because I could walk in here today and function with my constant pain doesn’t mean that another person who felt my level of pain would be even able to get out of bed!

  • JenniferAdams
    3 days ago

    If I could redo the Pain Scale, I would focus on a three dimensional score instead of the linear 1 to 10 scale that is currently offered.
    Is your pain so debilitating that you can’t even get out of bed? That’s a 10 by 10 by 10.
    Is your pain is a constant throbbing nagging presence, that’s not debilitating enough to bother mentioning to other people, and you can still work through, but that completely exhausts you by the end of the day? Maybe that’s a 4 by 5 by 10.
    If you stub your toe and will be over it in 30 seconds, maybe that’s a 1 by 1 by 1.
    So the three dimensions would be severity of pain, duration, and effect on daily life.

  • JudithsPsA
    3 weeks ago

    And how do I “rate” it when I have 1. constant pain almost all over that if it was just short term would be a 4 but when it’s gone on for days, it’s unbearable like Chinese water torture AND 2. Have random intense pain that hits like a hornet sting then aches for an hour & gradually fades?
    I’m guessing it’s a complicated algebraic equation. And the “how much does it affect this or that activity…. sometimes I hurt like hell but will do things knowing I’ll even hurt worse. I want to have SOME joy in life. Even if this demon tries to destroy me mentally & physically.

  • Beth V
    1 year ago

    I agree that the pain scale is a good idea, for acute pain, but for us chronic sufferers, it’s meaningless. I like the idea of asking real questions, like how hard was it to get into your car, drive over here, and walk into the office? How about how hard is it to get dressed in the morning, to get in and out of the shower, to cook supper, to fulfill your duties at work, if you are still able to work. The pain I rated as an 8 two years ago is probably more like a 4 today, I’ve learned to deal with that level and found work arounds, and I’ve just become used to it, so what is an 8 today would have had me sobbing two years ago. One nurse told me that I should think of labor as an 8, if that’s the case, than I run at about a 12 on a good day and a 16 to 20 on a bad one.

  • Boedica
    1 year ago

    Totally agree with you. O had a physio at one time that said I couldn’t possibly be at 8 on the pain scale! Then said that this wasn’t for benefits… Suggesting that I was lying to get benefits? I was working at the time and very upset.
    Pain can’t be measured in that way and is subjective. It’s all dependent on what I did yesterday or this morning. It will be lower at late morning and higher by three pm. It goes down in the evening when I’m only sitting to watch TV and sew.
    I think a simple way would be for them to ask if there painkillers are working, if not then when aren’t they working? We’re not stupid and need to be treated as capable of assessing our own needs. The doctor can decide the treatment based on what we tell them about when it’s not bearable.

  • John4ns
    1 year ago

    I give them tit for tat. When I get asked for a pain scale number, I hit them with a detailed listing of various activities, etc and the pain number associated thereby. That nurse better be sitting down because I show no mercy. Ask an indeterminate question and you are going to get the full answer. Someday they will wake up and ask a more defined question that will provide valid and useful information. BTW: it’s fun!

  • mich54
    1 year ago

    I agree 100% with you. I hate that question about what would you say your pain level is? My pain/stiffness/soreness level is the same, all over, all the time. I never know how to answer that question.

  • forpaws
    1 year ago

    I have PsA and several other autoimmune/non-autoimmune conditions all of which cause chronic, widespread pain. I had a pair of MIs several years ago, the second was excruciating. I can’t even describe it. So, on a “scale of…10 being the worst pain ever…” I’ll always be a 4-6. The current scale is utterly useless…but what really sucks is just being used to the pain because I’m treated like a doctor-hopping drug-seeker if I mention it. Revamp the pain scale? How about asking how I slept last night? How I terrified my cats because of the crying and screaming? How I managed to finally get to the bathroom at a 30 degree angle, limping and dragging my leg?

  • Cherylfrag
    1 year ago

    Sorry get gets so bad.

  • Sean
    1 year ago

    Preach! I hate the pain scale, too. It seems to me that it’s too subjective to really tell doctors much of anything. Am I at a 4? A 6? How the hell should I know. And what a 4 is to me might be an 8 to someone else. Or a 2.

    I’ve actually done some thinking on this and it seems to me that the TYPE of pain is more critical to a diagnosis than the pain level itself. Is it dull? Is it sharp? Is it burning? is it constant? Does it come and go? Is it static? Does it move around? Does it improve or worsen depending on position? Does heat make it better? Etc.

    Sure, subjective intensity could be a part of it, but only a small part.

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