4 Problems With The Pain Scale

My life has been filled with a lot of pain and many different types of pain. In the past 7 years, I have not had a single day without pain- not one. I have good days and bad days, but even the good days are filled with pain. Aside from the pain itself, the pain scale is one of the banes of my existence.

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1. It Doesn’t Work For Chronic Pain

Not only is it a pretty terrible scale for measuring pain in the average person, but it is even less effective for people with chronic pain.

I’ve had a lot of people when talking about pain, make the comment “but you’re used to it.” This isn’t exactly true. My pain is actually worse and more unbearable than it has ever been before. Pain doesn’t hurt any less because you are used to it. What you really get used to is living with it. You get used to pretending you don’t have pain, using coping methods such as distraction, and hiding the pain.

If I had the average response to dislocating a joint that the average person did I would be crying, distorting my face, and screaming far too often to navigate this world. So I’ve learned to breathe through it and even smile. Only people very close to me can even tell that something is happening- and often they can’t even tell. Developing this coping mechanism is so necessary for living with chronic pain and such a problem at the doctor’s office.

I have had at least a dozen kidney stones. The pain of a kidney stone is slightly worse than my average Ehler’s Danlos pain, but not enough that I can easily shed my coping mechanism of hiding my pain. One night I began to pee blood and couldn’t keep fluids down so I went to the ER. I told them I had a kidney stone- I know full well what they feel like by now. The nurse told me I couldn’t have a kidney stone, “Even giant footballer men roll into the fetal position from kidney stones.” They did a scan and, of course, I had a large kidney stone. I eventually got treatment, but first was told I wasn’t in enough pain. It was infuriating and it has happened more than once.

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It has gotten to the point where I almost feel like I have to try and visibly show the pain I feel inside, but it is still so difficult.

2. It Isn’t Standardized

Another problem is the scale means something different to everyone. I’ve been told 10/10 is the worst pain I’ve ever felt and also told that 10/10 is the worst pain I can imagine. These are far different measurements! For the same pain, I would rate it as a 8 on the first scale and a 3 on the second (I can imagine some horrific pain).

3. We Can Only Compare Pain- Not Imagine It

Generally, we can only rate our pain based on comparisons to other pain we have actually felt. That is the best way to understand someone’s pain. However, many people are at the extremes- they have either had a fairly pain free life or have experienced immense pain. Two people’s 7/10 may be wildly different. The scale does not work as a stand-alone tool without considering the pain patients have felt in the past.

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4. The Scale Is Used Against Patients

Another problem with the pain scale is that it is commonly used by nurses and doctors against the patient. If you answer too high on the pain scale and they can’t see the cause of your pain, they will assume you are lying to get drugs. If you answer an 8 and then check messages on your phone (even though distraction is one of the best solutions to pain) they will assume you are lying. If you answer too low they won’t take you seriously. Instead of using the scale to help treat patients it is often used to hurt patients.

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So if the pain scale is the problem what is the answer? Medical professionals need to listen to their patients when they describe their pain and take a look at their medical history. The pain scale needs to be taken with a grain of salt when used and needs to be standardized. Medical professionals need to make up their minds. What is a 10/10? Decide and then stick to it!

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4 thoughts on “4 Problems With The Pain Scale

  1. I absolutely hate the pain scale. Last time I was in the hospital they used a 5 point pain scale and when I said I was at a 4 the doctor rolled her eyes and said “you look fine to me, you don’t look like you’re a four.” I just stared at her and said “what would you like me to rate my pain?” She didn’t think it was funny, but I sure did! Sometimes you have to laugh it off when it all gets too frustrating.

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  2. Agreed! The number of healthcare providers who have believed me to be over dramatic or lying because my organic test results don’t come up with the goods they would expect for those pain levels is absurd.

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