Check-Up: Ouch! This pain is terrible

October 14, 2019

Dear Readers,

Mrs J.M. is 62 years old. She asks Check Up about how correct and how useful is the ‘pain scale’, and if it’s a serious measurement. She says she has had several painful episodes in her life, and she has often been asked to give a measurement of the pain being experienced.

Her issue is that pain is only relative. She has been measuring pain by one set of standards all her life and this changed dramatically after recent surgery, which was a real eye-opener. She’d had surgery before, several times on her abdomen and knee, and previous episodes with severe abdominal gas, headaches, serious toothaches and other problems with severe dysmenorrhea (period cramps) as a young adult. But her recent back surgery relegated those episodes, which were associated with pain, to what would be very low pain levels in comparison to her most recent experience!

She says she has a new pain measurement, which, on her older pain scale, would be 15/10. On the scale, one is very mild pain and 10 being previously the most serious pain she could imagine! She is much better now, but she asks how a lifetime of pain perception can change so suddenly! She also must have changed in some way.


Pain is very personal. There’s no X-ray or blood test which will measure pain! It’s always measured by the person’s concept of pain. Because of this, family members or colleagues at work can have different perceptions of the level of pain a person suffers with. Also, the perception of back pain, nerve pain, migraine headache pain or that of a broken bone differs, so people may have a different perception of pain. Some people also have a low pain threshold, while others may have a high tolerance for pain. This means that tolerable pain for some individuals is horrible pain for other people!

Yet, what is maximum conceivable pain for each individual is unique to that person and, as such, will allow their doctor to use their concept of pain and where they are on that measure to monitor some part of their progress towards good health.

We are all allowed to change our conception of what pain is. Pain will always be subjective to each person and their life interactions with pain. It’s a good thing that most people don’t have to actually experience very bad pain as their actual pain measure, and actually only imagine it. But we don’t wish pain on anyone. Instead, we celebrate their freedom from pain as they descend the pain scale back towards ‘zero’ pain and good health.

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