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Using the Pain Scale Effectively

by Karen Lee Richards, ChronicPainConnection Expert

If you are a chronic pain patient, you have most likely been asked to “rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you can imagine.”  In fact, you're probably asked to do that on a regular basis.  The problem is, no one ever tells you what the numbers between 0 and 10 mean.  We silently wonder what the doctor thinks they mean and try to pick a number that will adequately convey how much we're hurting.

In an effort to remedy this situation, I've researched multiple interpretations of the pain scale and compiled what I think is the most commonly accepted evaluation of each number on the scale.  You may be surprised by some of the descriptions.  Please note: This guide is not official, nor is it approved by any medical associations.  But hopefully it will help you rate your pain more accurately the next time you're asked.


0    Pain free.

Mild Pain  Nagging, annoying, but doesn't really interfere with daily living activities.

1    Pain is very mild, barely noticeable.  Most of the time you don't think about it.

2    Minor pain.  Annoying and may have occasional stronger twinges. 

3    Pain is noticeable and distracting, however, you can get used to it and adapt.

Moderate Pain – Interferes significantly with daily living activities.

4    Moderate pain.  If you are deeply involved in an activity, it can be ignored for a period of time, but is still distracting. 

5    Moderately strong pain.  It can't be ignored for more than a few minutes, but with effort you still can manage to work or participate in some social activities.

6    Moderately strong pain that interferes with normal daily activities.  Difficulty concentrating.

Severe Pain – Disabling; unable to perform daily living activities.

7    Severe pain that dominates your senses and significantly limits your ability to perform normal daily activities or maintain social relationships.  Interferes with sleep.

8    Intense pain.  Physical activity is severely limited.  Conversing requires great effort. 

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