The intensity of pain offers perhaps the least desirable system for classifying pain, because intensity varies for most patients over time and is uniquely subjective. A patient might rate the pain they are experiencing as a result of some pathological condition as a 10 on a 0 to 10 scale (with 0 signifying no pain at all and 10 representing the worst pain imaginable), whereas another patient with the same pathology and using the same scale might describe the intensity of pain as only a 5.


Numeric rating scale


Rather than focus on the perceived intensity of pain, it may be more useful to look at the disruption that pain causes for patients. Pain that interferes with appetite, pleasurable activities or sleep is more a cause for concern than pain that leaves the patient’s life otherwise intact, regardless of the reported intensity. Ultimately, there is no way to know how much pain another person is experiencing and it is best to assume that pain exists when a patient says it does and that it is at whatever intensity the patient says it is.1


1McCaffery M. Pain management: problems and progress. In: McCaffery M, Pasero CL. Pain: clinical manual. 2nd ed. St. Louis: Mosby; 1999:1-14.


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