Pain Management

Diagnosis & Tests

Evaluation of Pain 

Pain is a unique experience and differs from person to person, even when people have similar conditions. Once you have reported that you are in pain, your healthcare provider will try to identify the source and determine proper treatment. You may be asked to keep a pain diary to help describe what is happening on a day-to-day basis.

Your healthcare provider will complete a pain evaluation that will include:

  • Questions about your pain. These questions cover what your pain feels like (i.e., burning, stabbing, aching, pinching, throbbing), how bad it is, when it started, its pattern or duration, what it is associated with, and how it is affecting your daily life.
  • Questions about your health history. These questions cover any diseases, injuries, or disabilities you have had or diseases that have occurred in your family, and whether you drink alcohol or smoke.
  • Questions about what you have done to treat your pain.  These questions address what works or does not work based on your past experiences.
  • A complete list of all medications that you take. This includes prescriptions, herbal remedies, and over-the-counter (non-prescription) products.
  • A physical exam.
  • Laboratory or imaging studies (such as: x-rays, CT scans, MRI). Your healthcare provider should describe the benefits/risks of any diagnostic tests and explain their benefit in guiding your treatment plan.

Pain Scales

Your healthcare provider may use a pain scale to get a clearer idea of your pain experience. Different types of pain scales that will help you explain your pain include:

  • The Numeric Rating Scale, which allows you to choose a number from zero (no pain) to 10 (the worst pain you could imagine)
  • The Verbal Rating Scale, which offers “intensity” words (such as mild, moderate, and severe) or quality words (such as aching, burning, sore, stabbing)
  • The Faces Pain Rating Scale, which uses a series of pictures of faces that show different levels of pain expression.  You will be asked to choose the face that most closely represents how you are feeling

There are also simple questionnaires that will help you tell your healthcare provider what your pain is like. These are particularly useful if you have persistent pain, as they gather information on the impact of pain on your function and quality of life. Your healthcare provider may also wish to evaluate the psychological impact of your pain, since most people with chronic pain develop some symptoms of depression or anxiety.  

Other tools are available to help identify pain behaviors and changes in pain for those who are unable to self-report their pain.

Updated: March 2017