My Pain Scale

20 Feb

I read a very interesting post on the EDNF message boards yesterday about individualizing the typical 0-10 pain scale, and it got me thinking about my own pain scale. I’ve mixed my quality-of-life assessments with my symptoms of pain because to me they are inextricable.

0- I’m not sure I can even remember what a zero felt like…

1- An excellent day! No soreness, tenderness, cracking, snapping, or popping! I can function without thinking about my joints.

2- Some soreness, but it doesn’t interfere with my daily life. I don’t have to make any adjustments to my motion (eg. no need to avoid bending down or pulling a door with force), but I am dimly aware of the risk of overextension.

3- Achiness that requires me to change my daily habits and modulate my movements to accomodate. Specific joints in pain will require the support of braces.

4- Persistent, unavoidable pain that I usually have to breathe through. Can also be an acute subluxation with non-persistent pain if I am able to quickly realign.

5- Sharper pain that is usually accompanied by shortness of breath and tight muscles. I have to focus on locating the pain and attempting to realign whatever moved out of place. Usually comes with a sudden turned ankle, an unexpectedly heavy door, or when I straighten my elbow without realizing that it was misaligned (which happens fairly frequently, actually…proprioception is apparently not my strong point, even after 16 years of ballet!).

6- Full-body, dull pain that renders me immobile until the ibuprofen kicks in. Akin to my worst menstrual cramps. If ibuprofen doesn’t work, this type of pain gets kicked up to Level 7 status.

7- Sneezing! Sneezing is my number one high-risk activity. My body feels like it has been taken apart and put back together after a large sneeze. For a visual, picture a cartoon-style explosion combined with a cartoon-style electric shock: the body flies up into the air as we see its skeleton in contrast with a jagged black explosion-bubble, and the bones separate momentarily before the cartoon falls to the ground (sound effects accompany this, of course!). I am in so much pain after a sneeze that I usually have to find somewhere to lie flat.

8- Persistent and acute pain that affects a large area of my body, such as a hip subluxation that results in a pinched piriformis.

9- A hip, rib, SI joint, or shoulder dislocation that leaves me crying and unable to speak.

10- I haven’t experienced Level 10 pain on my scale yet, thank goodness!


4 Responses to “My Pain Scale”

  1. Moore Heidi February 20, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

    Rachel–this is really cool. It should be posted in doctors’ offices & nursing areas. I’m really inspired to write my own. Your whole conceptualization makes me realize how individualized our perceptions of pain are. For example, sneezing. That’s pretty horrendous. Well, I think I have a writing assignment for an upcoming blog….thanks for this!

    • Rachel February 20, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

      Thanks for reading! I’d also point you to this website ( that goes into detail about a modified version of the pain scale with specific trigger words that might help you to think about your pain differently. I actually read it after I wrote mine all out and was really surprised with the overlap between what I considered a 7 to be, for example, and what they have decided a 7 should be. I find it much more helpful than the silly smiley-face diagram on the walls of the pediatrician! 🙂
      All my best,

  2. Moore Heidi February 20, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Rachel, this is great. I’m putting together a great blog post on this, which will ping back to you, if that’s okay with you. Thanks so much! (will take me a few days to post because I’m working on another one first).

    Thanks again!


  1. Day 246. Weighing the Pain Scale. | heidiwriting - February 25, 2012

    […] week, she wrote her own version of a pain scale.  If you haven’t spent much time in the hospital of late, you may not be familiar with […]

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