Medical Pain measurement

  1. I was just wondering if there's a way to measure pain. I figured it'd be and equation like current. Like voltage would be the amount of pain, ohm would be a persons resistance to pain, and current would be the pain they actually felt.
  2. jcsd
  3. berkeman

    Staff: Mentor

    I'm not aware of any direct electrical measurements that can assess pain, but there has been some research into using facial expressions to assist in assessing pain:,d.aWc

    Summary of various pain scales:

  4. I've had various occasions to have nurses or doctors ask me how much pain I'm in and there has never been any attempt to quantify it. It was always purely subjective and I've talked to a couple of them and they agree that the answers they get to that question are utterly meaningless in any objective sense. I do think that the facial expression test mentioned about would be at least closer to realistic than just asking.
  5. berkeman

    Staff: Mentor

    In EMS, we use the 1-10 scale for pain (where a 10 is the worst pain you've ever felt in your life). Yeah, for middle numbers it doesn't hold a lot of meaning, since folks' pain tolerance varies quite a bit. But for trending a patient over the time that you are working with them, it can be very helpful.

    For example, if I'm called to assess a patient who is complaining of chest pain, I'll ask how long ago it started, and on the 1-10 scale, how much did it hurt then, and how much does it hurt now. I can ask the same question later in the assessment, to see if things are getting worse or holding steady for a while...

    And usually, when a reliable patient says the pain is an 8 or a 9, that's a pretty big flag that things may be serious...
  6. micromass

    micromass 20,039
    Staff Emeritus
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    Last edited: Apr 19, 2014
  7. berkeman

    Staff: Mentor

  8. berkeman

    Staff: Mentor

    The lead instructor for a Wilderness First Aid course (that I help out at) says that her "10" was a couple days of dealing with kidney stones. She has some stories that will curl your toes! :eek:
  9. Choppy

    Choppy 3,298
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Brian Regan has a great bit about this:

    There has also been some interesting work done on perception of pain that suggests that most people do not remember it in terms of intensity integrated over duration. Sorry I don't have any links on that. I remember reading about it in Khaneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow."
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  10. Yeah, they say that if women really remembered how painful childbirth is, they would never do it more than once. I'm just GUESSING at how painful it is, and I wouldn't want to do it EVEN once.
    I think that's probably a legitimate 10.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  11. Pain is an inherently subjective experience and may fall into the hard problem of consciousness in neuroscience. Therefore constructing a precise and consistent objective pain scale is difficult, maybe even impossible. The best we can do is what others have mentioned, subjective scales and indirect measures. The latter may involve vital sign monitoring, grimacing, infant crying and such but are not very sensitive or specific and are useful in tracking individual progress through treatment. So you can't exactly claim that two people giving a 5/10 pain rating as having he same amount of pain, but you can be more confident that a person who presents with a 9/10 rating which progresses to a 3/10 is on the right track.

    Not only can two people give different ratings to similar stimuli but the same stimulus may elicit wildly different responses in an individual at different times. There is the phenomenon of CNS sensitization after acute or chronic pain, for example. You can read a little about it here:

    For a pretty good, and fairly comprehensive, read you can check out book(s) by (David?) Butler, I think the one I have read is called Explain Pain.
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