Firm-Wide blog

Pain Scale

By Burg Simpson
December 16, 2014
3 min read

When a worker has been injured on the job, it is very common for the treating physician to ask the worker to rate his or her pain on the “pain scale”. This scale from one to ten is something that most people are familiar with, but not something that many people truly understand in the context of a work injury case.

Most doctors will ask their patient to rate his or her pain without making sure the patient has a clear understanding of what the pain scale really means. For the most part, doctors are likely to not believe a patient in their office reporting a 9 or a 10 on the pain scale, potentially because a 9 or 10 to the doctor means pain so intense you cannot move or get out of bed. Frequently they describe it as pain so intense that you want to cut off your arm. I have seen many cases where the patient reported a 9 or 10 on the pain scale, only to be dismissed by a doctor’s report saying the patient was exaggerating his or her pain level.

The reality is that pain is subjective and we all experience it differently. I do not like the pain scale system very much, personally, but it is here to stay either way. As long as you will have to use it, here are some guidelines for how most doctors interpret the pain scale:

  • 1, 2, and 3 might mean an “annoying pain” or something you can cope with but one that is bothering you either constantly at a low level or occasionally when you move or bend a certain way. This type of pain does not prevent you from doing any normal daily activities of your life. This pain may be from an injury that you are tolerating but it is something you notice, and generally something you can be sent back to work with fairly quickly.
  • 4, 5, and 6 mean an injury that impedes your ability to participate in your regular activities. This type of pain is basically anything painful enough to change your mode or frequency of movement. This pain usually requires some change in your routine. It may make you limit your activities or miss time from work depending on the frequency and type of job you do.
  • 7 or 8 level pain usually indicates an injury that keeps you home or off your feet most of the time. This type of pain may require a lot of bedrest or lifestyle changes to accommodate. Anyone at this pain level would probably not be able to work at all. This is usually the highest pain level doctors will consistently trust.
  • 9 or 10 is pain so unbearable you cannot move and/or are contemplating suicide to cope with your extreme level of pain. These levels of pain are very uncommon to see in someone who is not very obviously immobile with pain. My advice is to avoid telling a doctor your pain level is a 9 or a 10 because they may feel you are exaggerating your pain.

It is never too early to get a lawyer involved in your work comp case. If you have been injured at work, contact an attorney as soon as you are hurt. Most lawyers (myself included) will do a free consultation with you over the phone, by email, or in person to tell you what you can expect in your case. If you would like to talk to someone about your case, you can call me at 303-792-5595 or submit a request using the button on the right side of the page to have someone from our office contact you.

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