One of the problems with pain

Nobody really likes pain, with the slim exception of masochists. So when we're in pain, especially when we don't know the cause, most of us go to a doctor; or we go to a dentist if it's a tooth that's bothering us.

Unfortunately, unlike voltage or velocity, it's difficult, maybe impossible -- to measure pain. It's too subjective. To get around this, healthcare staff routinely ask patients to rate their pain on scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being little or no pain, and 10 being unbearable pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, it should breakdown something like this :

0-1: No pain

2-3: Mild pain

4-5: Discomforting - moderate pain

6-7: Distressing - severe pain

8-9: Intense - very severe pain

10: Unbearable pain

But when you're sitting on the examination table after enduring days of enough pain to render you bedridden, you're ready to call it an 11, maybe a 14, if that will get them to prescribe a powerful enough pain-killer or make your medical condition their top priority.

When I find myself being asked that question, I always want an example for each level. Where does a bee sting fall? How much pain does slamming your finger in a car door rate? Biting your tongue? Eating ice cream with an expose dental nerve? And how could I be in the doctor's office if the pain was unbearable? How would I be bearing it?

Can't they just take my word for it: It really hurts! Now make it better.

Anyone out there with a better way to rate pain?

Please or Register to post comments.

What's A Skeptical Engineer?

A questioning, sometimes humorous look at technologies, engineering, and the world.


Stephen Mraz

Steve serves as Senior Editor of Machine Design.  He has 23 years of service and has a B.S. Biomedical Engineering from CWRU. Steve was a E-2C Hawkeye Naval Flight Officer in the U.S. Navy. He...
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