The WHY Behind the 0-10 Pain Scale

Every day in my job, I ask patients to please rate their pain on a scale of 0-10. 0 means no pain at all and 10 means the pain is so bad that you need to go to the emergency room.” Occasionally, I will get patients that tell me, with a smile, that their pain is 7-8/10! My response is usually a surprised, “your pain is that bad right now?!” On the contrary, a patient might tell me the pain is a 1/10 – as they limp into the clinic and can barely move their knee. This happens often! 

Have you ever wondered why you are asked what your pain levels are from with a 0-10 scale? Or thought to yourself, “my 2/10 might be someone else’s 9/10.” While this might be true, the reason healthcare professionals ask is important for us to begin to understand your pain. Or maybe you have seen a scale similar to this one that has smiling to crying faces. Sometimes people will flip the scale because a 10/10 seems like it should mean that you feel the best, whereas a 0/10 would mean you are in the most pain.  

During the first visit of physical therapy, we ask to rate your pain on a scale of 0-10 for your current pain, the worst it has been prior to therapy, and the best it has been prior to therapy. When asking this question, your physical therapist is attempting to establish a baseline understanding of your pain. We do not compare these numbers to other patients, or even ourselves, because everyone perceives pain differently. It could be true that your 2/10 might be someone else’s 9/10, but we don’t ever discredit someone’s pain. As you complete your physical therapy sessions, we will continue to ask what your pain is from 0-10 to track your subjective progress. Then, prior to your follow-up doctor’s visit, we ask again what your pain is currently, worst since beginning physical therapy, and best since beginning physical therapy so your doctor can see how your pain has evolved . Of course, this is just one of many ways that we come to understand pain levels. Pain scales address severity, but once that is communicated, we delve much further.  

In summation, while you might roll your eyes when someone asks your pain levels from 0-10, a physical therapist at Axes Physical Therapy really does use this information. It is a necessary subjective fact to consider when creating an individualized treatment plan for your current condition and to assess how you are progressing with physical therapy.

Our hope is that as you progress with Axes Physical Therapy, you tell us that your pain continues to decrease – on a scale of 0-10! 

To schedule an appointment with Jodi any of our expert therapists, request an appointment online today!