What is a Pain Assessment?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2018
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A pain assessment takes many forms and may be complex or simple. Primarily it is a means of gauging information about a person’s present pain. This information includes determining pain intensity, identifying pain sources and causes, determining previous treatments used to address pain, and evaluating how pain is affecting a person’s life or well-being. Numerous methods may be used to find this information and sometimes assessments are unsuccessful in determining causes or directing treatment. This may occur because an assessment is not comprehensive enough.

Many times, the pain assessment takes place at a doctor’s office though it could also occur at hospital or a clinic that specifically addresses chronic pain. Of the three, assessment is most likely to be more extensive in chronic pain clinics or with doctors that specialize in this area. A variety of methods could be used to get a sense of a person’s pain.

The first of these is taking vital signs. People in chronic pain might have fever, and especially may show elevated blood pressure or heart rate, though this isn’t always the case. Chronic pain sufferers often do have warmer skin as a result of continual body stress. This might be noted in physical exam, which is very often performed. In particular, any area identified as painful could be assessed for potential problems or level of function. For instance, if a person suffers severe shoulder pain, evaluation of range of motion might be useful.


The pain assessment may also ask a person to comment on and rate pain. This could be done with a simple 0-10 scale or other models might be employed. For children, a picture of faces that progress from happy to distressed are often used, as this is an easier model for young kids to understand. Doctors will also want to know things like medical history, when pain began, and what has been used to treat pain. Understanding medication use for treatment can be important because people may develop tolerance to medicines resulting in increased pain symptoms.

Unless pain is clearly physical, doctors may perform mild to moderately extensive psychosocial evaluations as part of a pain assessment. There are strong links between increases in pain due to conditions like depression or anxiety, and these may need to be weighed. Additionally, physical pain may worsen if it is having an adverse effect on a patient’s life, or may also worsen if greater pain brings the patient some type of reward like financial support. Understanding the patient’s present life and emotional state could suggest ways to most effectively treat pain.

With a pain assessment, a doctor may be able to get a small to big picture view of present suffering. Mini-assessments performed in places like hospitals can help determine appropriate medications or level of recovery, too. A series of exams, questions, and other inquiries suggest best ways to address pain and to help the patient.



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