Last week I answered a question by explaining the trouble with how doctors interpret your painscale. Doctor D confessed that he doesn't like the painscale at all. Today I will tell you why even if used perfectly the painscale still just won't work:
The 1 to 10 painscale ignores the way the human body uses pain in the first place. The scale assumes that we can observe the sensation of pain and then compare and contrast it to other pains we know or imagine. Your analysis of pain is supposed to produce a number that doctors and researchers can use to make calculations. There are a lot of things the human mind does a great job analyzing, but pain isn't one of them.
The purpose of pain is to get your attention. Pain is your body screaming, “Something is wrong!” It doesn't take much pain to completely capture your mind's focus. Pain functions as a useful warning system. It tells you to pull your hand out of the fire or not to walk on that broken ankle. Your brain pays close attention to pain and obeys its commands. So what if being burned at the stake is a 10 and your broken leg is only a 7? Trust me the broken leg will get and keep your attention till the bone is set.
Asking the mind to quantify pain is like asking it to assign a number to love or fear. It simply doesn't work that way. This is the reason that so many patient's say their pain is 10 of 10. No they aren't feeling the worst imaginable pain, but the pain does have their full attention.
Doctors want hard facts from painscales. We scoff at patients who say things like, “My pain is still a 10, but it's better than the 10 I felt before,” or “It's a 10, but not as bad as when I delivered my baby!” We demand hard facts and we get irritated when patients give us flawed and subjective data.
The worst pain Doctor D ever felt was probably about a 6, but subjectively it was miserable enough to get my attention and keep me from hitting my finger with the hammer ever again. We should listen to patients' descriptions of pain and seek to relieve it, but we shouldn't demand they to turn their pain into a number. The human experience of pain just doesn't work that way!
Doctor D is always talking about the natural purpose of things like hunger, laziness, anxiety, and pain. His theory is that understanding the natural functions of the feelings helps us respond when these feelings give us trouble. What do you think? Would understanding the useful warning function of pain help those of you that suffer from pain problems?