Decoding Your Doctor's Pain Chart
On a scale from one to ten, how confusing is it to put your pain level to a number? Understanding the pain chart can be a level ten chore in itself, and doctors know that. As Dr. Ammar Alamarie, a physician at CaroMont Health, explains, “Pain is subjective, and it is often difficult for a patient to put a number to.” That’s why using the pain chart, one of the most common tools in doctors’ offices across the country, can be tricky.
Not everyone experiences pain in the same way. In fact, pain tolerance is different for everyone, so it’s not only important to explain your pain accurately to your doctor, but for your doctor to know your symptoms and medical history for the best possible diagnosis and treatment plan.
While many doctors may use smiley faces or temperature scales to help patients pinpoint their pain, Dr. Alamarie typically asks his patients to rate pain on a numerical scale from one to ten.
But what do those numbers actually mean? To some extent, they’re subjective. Again, pain is different for everyone, but the most common rating system is an 11-point numerical scale designed to allow a patient to self-report their physical pain.
The chart begins at zero, which means no pain, and ends at ten, meaning you’re feeling severe pain. Not sure what severe pain is? Think about the worst pain you’ve felt – maybe childbirth or a broken bone – and go from there. Talk to your doctor about what the “severe pain” situation was so they have a better understanding of where your mind is when you’re describing the severity of your pain.
Once your doctor has an understanding of the level of pain you’re experiencing, Dr. Alamarie says the next step is to see “how functional the patient is, their activities, and any changes in mood.” This observation includes your vital signs, specific symptoms and relevant medical history, and is unique for every patient. This information, when combined with hearing directly from you the severity, frequency and type of pain you’re experiencing, helps your care team know how to appropriately treat and manage your pain.
At the end of the day, improvement is a top priority for Dr. Alamarie. He adds, “We also take into consideration a patient's ability to do activities of daily living and being able to live an overall more functional and happy life.”