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How do doctors assess the severity of acute pain?

Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

The most common way to measure pain is for the doctors to ask the patient about his/her acute pain. For example, the doctor may ask the patient to describe the level of pain he/she feels on a scale of 1 to 10. Patient may use words like:

  • aching 
  • burning
  • stinging
  • throbbing 

These words will give the doctor a clearer picture of the pain the patient is experiencing.

Pain is a highly subjective phenomenon and not necessarily linear. However, doctors often need to get a general sense of how bad someone's pain really is. The classic method for evaluating pain is just to ask the patient to rank it on a scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst ever). Doctors can use a visual scale as well, where patients perform a similar ranking by making a mark on a 10cm line.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.