Researchers Find Way to Measure Pain

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • Have you ever wished there was some way to prove just how much pain you're in?  When doctors question your need for pain medication or family members hint that they don't really believe you could possibly hurt as badly as you claim, don't you wish you could hand them a lab report that clearly identifies the severity of your pain?  Well, that day may not be as far off as you think.

    Scientists at Oxford University in the UK have found a way to both identify the existence of pain and measure it's intensity using brain imaging techniques such as functional maagnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).  In a series of studies, they were able to pinpoint distinct differences between the brains of people who have pain and those who don't.  They found that pain incerased the blood flow to certain parts of the brain roughly in proportion to the intensity of the pain.  While most of the senses (hearing,  sight, etc.) activate only one part of the brain, pain can activate more than a dozen different parts of the brain. 

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:

    The goal of the researchers is to collect brain scans from many different people with varying types and levels of pain, which would then be used to build a generalized model.  Once the model is developed, the scans of individual pain patients could be compared to it in order to identify the type and intensity of their pain. 

    I am so excited about this discovery.  Can you imagine what a huge difference this could make for us?  Until now, pain has been subjective.  Doctors have had to rely on their patients' estimates of how much pain they are in, based largely on a less-than-accurate pain scale that each individual interprets somewhat differently.  When this new model becomes available, there will finally be an objective way to measure pain.  Think about some of the changes this could bring:

    • Doctors might be more inclined to prescribe necessary pain medications when they can “see” our pain.
    • Family and friends may be more understanding of our limitations when they have visual evidence of the severity of our pain.
    • Clinical trial results would be more accurate and useful because the amount of pain relief (or lack of it) could be measured accurately rather than just estimated by participants.
    • The effectiveness of different treatment options could be monitored and treatments fine-tuned to meet our individual needs.
    • Having proof of our pain levels should make disability cases easier to win. 
    • Attorneys representing personal injury cases would be able to demonstrate the severity of their clients' pain. 
    • We should be less likely to be accused of being a drug seeker when we can offer verifiable proof of how much pain we're in. 

    Finally, if someone says, “Your pain is all in your head,” you can answer, “Yes, it is and I can prove it!” 

    Leake, Jonathan (2009, June 7). Scientists discover way of measuring pain. TimesOnline, from

Published On: June 24, 2009