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The Pain Scale: Think Twice About Saying 10

“On a pain scale of 0-10, how bad is your pain?” This is a familiar question that is usually asked whenever you see a medical provider for an injury or illness. It’s important to answer accurately because it can affect how medical providers treat you and your credibility in your workers’ compensation or disability claim.

Rating pain on a 0-10 pain scale can be difficult because pain is a subjective experience: one person’s 7 can be another person’s 2. Pain can also change over time or when you engage in a different activity.

People often don’t realize that the pain rating you tell your medical provider will be noted in your medical record, which can be viewed by legal and insurance professionals. This record can be critical in determining a final decision in your case. Pain scale ratings that don’t match a provider’s observations of your behavior, or ratings that change from one visit to the next without a good reason, can cause medical providers not to take you seriously. They can also damage your credibility in your legal claim.

To help you describe your pain effectively, we’ve put together these guidelines.

  1. Don’t claim to have pain of 10 (unless your pain really is excruciating enough that physical activity is impossible and you will soon pass out). Medical staff—and the judge, defense attorney, or insurance company in your legal claim—will likely view a rating of 10 as an exaggeration (or even a deliberate deception), especially if you can still hold a conversation.
  2. Don’t inflate your answer because you think a higher pain rating might result in faster medical attention or a better legal outcome. It will hurt your credibility and your medical record.
  3. Also, don’t minimize your pain or try to “tough it out”. Give your providers an accurate picture of your health so that they know how best to treat you. It’s also important for your legal claim that all your symptoms are noted in your medical record.
  4. To help you answer objectively, ask to see the pain scale that your medical provider uses. We show you a typical one here. As you can see, a 0 is no pain and a 10 is pain so unbearable that you will soon pass out from it.
  5. Be consistent: keep a journal to record what you say at your medical visits, or ask the staff to look up what you said previously. Also record the reasons for any changes, like a new medication that helped you or a flareup that aggravated the pain.
  6. Give a range, especially if you have frequent medical visits for the same injury. Say: “At it’s worst, it can feel like a 7; at other times, it’s more like a 4.” This is better than saying 7 on one visit and 4 on the next.
  7. If you are unsure, it’s fine to say so. Look at the pain scale your medical provider uses to help you decide on the best answer.

Your attorney wants to help you to get the medical treatment and the legal benefits you are entitled to. Reporting pain accurately is a key part of succeeding in this goal because it directly reflects on your credibility. Call us at 1-800-INJURED or fill out our contact form on this page if you have any questions.

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