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Pain Assessment: How Bad is Your Pain?

blog, Pain Management Oct 18, 2017 No Comments

Science argues that pain is a subjective experience. Some pain experts agree that part of feeling the pain is how your brain is interpreting it. Fortunately, whether it’s all in your head or not, there are pain assessment tools to determine how bad your pain is. Here are different types of assessment tools to help you accurately portray your pain levels to professionals.

The 10-Point Pain Scale

Many doctors use a 10-point pain assessment scale, with 0 being no pain and 10 being an excruciating, debilitating pain. Yet, even this can be highly subjective. Two people with the same degree of pain might assess their pain differently – one at a level 5 and the other at a level 7 – depending upon their relative experiences. Because of this, there are other pain assessment tools to consider as well.

Other Pain Assessment Tools

To help people be more specific about their pain assessment and to determine just how severe pain might be, the LOCATES scale can help draw more information about the type of pain a person is experiencing. The LOCATES scale was developed by the American Pain Foundation (no longer in operation), and it continues to be a reliable tool to facilitate communication between health professionals and their patients.

The LOCATES pain assessment scale asks for the following information:

L – Location of the pain: Where is your pain and does it travels to other parts of your body?

OOther associated symptoms: Do you have nausea, numbness, or weakness with your pain?

C – Character of the pain: Is it throbbing, sharp, dull, or burning?

A – Aggravating and alleviating factors: What makes the pain better or worse?

T – Timing of the pain: How long does the pain last? Is it constant or intermittent?

E – Environment: Where do you experience the pain most often – for example, while working or at home?

S – Severity of the pain: How would you rate your pain on a 0-to-10 pain scale, from no pain to worst ever?

While the above tool does use a 10-point pain assessment scale, it also invites more details about the level, type, factors, and symptoms of the pain. Those experiencing pain may want to share their answers to the above questions with their healthcare provider. Conveying these answers to your doctor can help you both create a pain management plan.

Pain Assessment Tools | Comprehensive Pain Management Center

The Process of Pain

The process of pain is actually somewhat complex. It begins with the body’s vast neural network and millions of tiny sensors that exist throughout the body. Pain can be experienced when a nerve in the body has been triggered. However, there must be a certain amount of stimulus for pain to trigger.

For example, let’s say you have a bowling ball resting on your big toe. Yes, it’s heavy and it’s likely uncomfortable, but the weight of the ball isn’t enough to stimulate pain. Yet, if a bowling ball were to drop on your big toe from a few inches up, the falling weight of the bowling ball would stimulate a great deal of sensors, activating a nerve. This nerve, in turn, will produce a signal that travels up the spine to the brain. Interestingly, a person hasn’t yet experienced any pain. It is not until the signal from the nerve reaches the brain where it is processed and then you may have a response to what just happened.

Experiencing Pain

Your response and experience of the pain is based upon:

  • the information taken in from your senses
  • information from past experiences that may have been similar
  • your current mood
  • level of stress at the time
  • perception of the situation

All of this is factored into the equation, without you consciously being aware that the brain is processing all this information, and then you decide the degree to which you experience pain. Within milliseconds, the brain decides whether a response to the situation is necessary. In this case, a person might jerk their foot back, scream, sit down, or do another activity in response to what they are experiencing.

However, the brain might not register the pain at all. Take for instance someone who has a severe case of diabetes and who experiences nerve damage in their foot. A bowling ball may fall on their toe or they may step on a nail and not feel the pain at all. This happens because the nerve that would normally send the signal of pain up to the brain has been impaired.

Responding to and Preventing Pain | Comprehensive Pain Management Center

How to Respond to Pain

Depending upon your pain assessment; the type, location, and severity of your pain, you may want to respond to pain appropriately. There are some important tips to remember when it comes to experiencing pain in the body:

  1. Don’t ignore pain. Pain that is unknown to you or the result of an injury or disease should be assessed by a healthcare provider.
  2. Avoid painful movement. While your pain is still acute, it may be best to refrain from movement that causes more harm.
  3. Keep a pain diary. If you continue to experience pain and you’ve already consulted with a doctor or other healthcare provider, keep track of when, where, and how you experience pain. This can help build awareness around your pain.
  4. Take care of yourself. Be sure to eat well, get good sleep, and exercise (if you can) in order to keep your body healthy. This can help minimize your experience of pain.
  5. Drink plenty of water. It’s also important to keep the body hydrated.
  6. Be curious about your pain. Sometimes pain is not what you think. For example, pain in your neck and shoulders may have more to do with a misalignment in your hip. Again, talk to a healthcare professional if you suspect pain may be linked to something else.
  7. Reduce the amount of stress in your life. Experiencing pain is already a stressful experience. To help keep stress levels low, eliminate other sources of stress in your life as best you can.

These are general suggestions to keep the body healthy while facing pain. There are a great number of causes of pain. So, be sure to consult your doctor or a healthcare professional for suggestions to assist you in your unique situation.

When you do talk to a pain doctor or a healthcare professional, be sure to use the LOCATES pain assessment tool (or another pain assessment scale) to provide the most detail about your experience of pain. This can assist with getting the right treatment and professional support.


Comprehensive Pain Management Center