Pain Scale

Several times in the last few months I’ve been asked by medical personnel to “choose a number from one to ten that describes my pain.” The number picked would locate me on a “pain scale” and give them an idea how much medication to administer. Higher number = stronger drugs.

Pain Scale - Visual Analog Scale

There are different versions of the pain scale, the two most popular being the Visual Analog Scale (VAS) and the Face Pain Scale. All are attempts to objectify a subjective experience.

Pain Scale - Face Pain Scale

There are machines to evaluate everything from bone density (X-ray) to organ function (MRI) to cell formation (PET scan), but we have no mechanical device to measure suffering. Like beauty, it is in the eye of the individual.

Pain involves the body—including the brain—but it’s the mind that determines suffering. Some people resist pain and concede little to its onslaught. Others give way to the least discomfort and are overwhelmed. Neither approach is right or wrong; it just is.

We are hardwired for pain, with millions of specialized nerves that keep minute track of heat, cold, pressure and a myriad of other sensations. They make us instantly aware of damaging influences and motivate us toward healthy behavior, in my case like not crashing into other cars.

Conversely, there is not a single nerve in the human body designed for registering pleasure. Feelings of well-being, happiness and joy are controlled by neurotransmitters in the brain. To use a computer analogy, experiencing pain is in our hardware while enjoying pleasure is a matter of software.

Pain is a part of life and we sometimes don’t have a choice as to its timing or intensity. But in some ways we can control how much we suffer from it.

7 thoughts on “Pain Scale

  1. Mike, in response to your email. This is not malpractice but a wonderful summation of the reality of pain and you explain one facet quite well. You may be aware of the book called “The Gift of Pain” written by Paul Brand, M.D. In any case, I believe there are many important ways to accept, process, even embrace suffering that help us journey life and life with others.

  2. Hey Mike! I was glad to read you are able to drive and are getting rid of the Darth Vader brace. I must say, I enjoyed the noices it made. We offically opened for business this past Monday. I am almost finished with your book. By the way, I am really enjoying it. I think of you often as I look at the book on my bedside table everyday.

    Stay motivated and keep exercising. Look forward to seeing you when I can finally finish the book and return it.

  3. How thankful we are, Mike, that your pain level is down somewhat. It has been a long haul. We all, as a family, admire your persistence and love you heaps. Mom

  4. interesting – I was told I have a high pain tolerance. But pain is an indication something is wrong, so it can be useful.

  5. Well said. Some days we have slog through the pain to find the joy. But there is always joy. It takes great courage to persevere and find it.

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