How Accurate is the 1 to 10 Pain Scale?

Do you have a high pain tolerance? How do you know it’s higher than another patient? One of the most difficult aspects of pain management that our doctors deal with is an individual’s pain tolerance. The infamous one-to-ten pain scale is unscientific, and inaccurate when dealing with individuals who feel pain differently. What might be a two-to-one person might be an eight. Even when the patient explains to the pain doctor the amount of pain they’re in, we’re still stuck as to how much pain they are truly feeling. But all of that might be changing.

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The Pain Scale

Pain is subjective and unquantifiable. When you visit the physician for chronic pain symptoms, or perhaps when you’re in labor, your doctor will have you rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. When my wife was having our first little one, the nurse said “rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the kind of pain you’d feel if you were hit by a truck and then run over twice.” It’s an interesting way to describe pain, but effective.

The pain scale, though not entirely effective, does make pain measurable for doctors. On your first visit, your pain might be an 8, but on your third visit, your pain might be down to a 3. This tells the pain doctor that they are doing the right things to get you back into life and relieve your pain.

Pain Scale MRIs

Recently, scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston were able to “observe changes in blood flow to specific regions of the brain as chronic back pain patients held uncomfortable positions inside the scanner,” according to “As the patients’ brains were registering the distressing sensation, the investigators watched blood flow activate or ‘light up’ different regions. They could then measure that blood flow during those painful episodes.” This, many believe, is a huge step to categorically defining the amount of physical pain that a patient is feeling.

According to Dr. Ajay D. Wasan, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and psychiatry involved in the research study, the “network involved in processing pain” is well understood. The fact that a person’s attention to their pain is a key element in their pain tolerance leads Dr. Wasan to believe that “drugs that might change a person’s ability to pay attention to their pain or be distracted from their pain” might become exceedingly important aspects of pain management down the road.

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