Describing how pain levels and how pain feels can be the hardest thing in the world. The second hardest is describing accurately your level of pain or pain levels. It’s subjective, so what one person finds mildly irritating, another may find excruciating. Despite difficulties in talking about pain, it’s the first thing an emergency room doctor or specialist will ask about when you see them for injury or illness, or when you’re discussing medication for ongoing, chronic pain. Pain Levels vary depending on the unlying condition causing the pain. It is important to visit the closest emergency room if your pain level affecting your daily activities and life.
Today’s medical thinking is that chronic pain is a condition in itself rather than merely a symptom of an underlying condition. In trying to treat chronic pain, it’s important that everyone, including doctors and the patient, have the same understanding of pain and use similar terms to describe it.
Explaining Pain Levels
Doctors often ask patients to rate their pain level on a scale of 1 to 10. What emergency room doctors don’t give their patients is any indication of the standard pain level scale interpretations. Patients often find it puzzling to figure out what the doctor means and how they can choose a number to adequately express the severity of their pain.
The pain scale actually has standard explanations which divides pain into three categories ranging from mild for lower numbers, moderate to cover the middle numbers, and severe for numbers above seven. Even this isn’t very clear, however, because as previously stated mild or moderate pain means different things to different people. Most of us need a way to break down those categories a little further:
- Mild Pain. On the pain scale, this level of pain ranges between numbers one and three, and can be categorized as nagging or annoying. You are aware that it’s there, but it doesn’t necessarily interfere with life on a daily basis and you are able to carry on with most of the activities you enjoy. Pain at the level of 1 is barely noticeable, at level 2 it’s a little stronger and can be annoying, Level 3 pain can be distracting but you can adapt and manage despite it.
- Moderate Pain. At this level, pain starts to interfere with daily life. At level 4, it’s distracting but you can ignore it when you are very interested in something else. At level 5, it’s hard to ignore and takes a lot of effort to work or mix socially with friends. With level 6 pains, you have difficulty concentrating and it stops you getting on with normal daily activities.
- Severe Pain. Severe pain is that which is disabling, preventing you performing normal activities during the day or night. At level 7, pain stops you sleeping. Either you can’t get to sleep at all or it will wake you during the night, and keeping up with social relationships is very difficult. When it intensifies to level 8, pain makes even holding a conversation extremely difficult and your physical activity is severely impaired. Pain is said to be at level 9 when it is excruciating, prevents you speaking and may even make you moan or cry out. Level 10 pain is unbearable. You will be bedridden and possibly even delirious.
Learning how doctors interpret the scale can help you give informative answers when asked to describe the level of pain you feel. Some doctors have their own ideas of what different pain levels mean, so it helps if you can describe the impact the pain has on daily life as well as giving a number rating between 1 and 10.
The Pain Scale and Children
Adults find it hard to describe levels of pain, but for children it’s practically impossible. Some variations of the pain scale use cartoon faces to indicate the types of feelings or emotions a person in pain may have, and these can be helpful when trying to understand a child’s pain.
When to Visit the Emergency Room
If you’ve been suffering from pain for a known condition for a while, it might not bring you to the nearest emergency room. Things to watch out for are when pain levels change significantly, or when you suddenly experience severe pain you haven’t felt before.
Pain is an indicator of an underlying condition, one which may have been developing for a while but which you were unaware of. An example could be chest pain. Cardiac disorders don’t come on overnight but develop over time and often we don’t realize anything is wrong until we feel pain. This is an example of a cause that has no visible signs, unlike bone fractures where it may be possible to see swelling or some deformity.
If you have unexpected or unexplained pain, there could be an underlying reason to visit the emergency room even if you don’t know what that reason is. Understanding the pain scale will help you accurately describe what you’re feeling, and help doctors give you the most effective medication.
If you are experiencing pain levels higher than you can tolerate, you should visit the closest ER. Use our scheduling app to schedule an appointment to be seen our one of our emergency rooms closest to you.