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Stuff You Should Know / – Selects: Pain Scales: Yeeeow!

Stuff You Should Know – Selects: Pain Scales: Yeeeow!

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In this episode of “Stuff You Should Know,” the hosts dive into the fascinating world of pain scales. They explore the different types of pain scales, the challenges of quantifying pain, and the importance of accurate pain assessment in medical treatment. Along the way, they share their own experiences with pain and discuss popular TV shows. Join the hosts as they unravel the complexities of pain measurement and its impact on patient care.

Main Takeaways

The Evolution of Pain Scales

  • Pain scales are not arbitrary and a lot of thought went into how they were formed and put together.
  • There are many different types of pain scales.
  • Self-reporting and observation are the two methods used to determine pain levels in patients.
  • The medical community has traditionally done a poor job of managing pain, but is now waking up to the issue.
  • The American Pain Society has deemed pain the fifth vital sign, emphasizing its importance.

Challenges in Quantifying Pain

  • There is no physical instrument that can accurately measure pain, so doctors rely on methods such as asking the patient how much they hurt or making their own observations.
  • Pain is subjective and difficult to quantify, with one researcher defining it as “whatever the person experiencing it says it is.”
  • The need to quantify pain levels better is ongoing, as doctors struggle to determine the appropriate medication and treatment for patients.
  • Pain has been misunderstood for a long time, and doctors have struggled with determining appropriate medication and treatment for patients.

Types of Pain Scales

  • In 1940, researchers built a device called a Dolorimeter to measure pain by comparing it to the intensity of labor pains, but subsequent experience by other doctors found it to be junk.
  • Machines were used to measure pain objectively, including a ray gun that checks if someone under anesthesia is under deep enough.
  • Dr. Lauren D’Jullius Bella Glutzek invented a machine that put pressure on the shin bone to measure pain in grams.
  • Kenneth Keel suggested asking people to rate their pain on a scale of zero to three, which became the standard.
  • The Wong Baker faces were developed in the 80s to help children report pain.

Importance of Accurate Pain Assessment

  • Pain is widespread, with 9 out of 10 people in the US regularly suffering from it, and 25 million people suffering from acute pain and 50 million suffering from chronic pain.
  • Pain scales need to be adjusted for children, the elderly, and cognitively impaired patients.
  • Self-reported pain scales are subjective and require a scale to quantify pain levels.
  • Physicians can use alternative words to get patients to discuss their pain.
  • Observational pain assessment can be categorized into behavioral and physiological cues.


The Evolution of Pain Measurement

Pain scales have undergone significant development over the years. They are not arbitrary but are carefully designed to assess pain levels accurately. The medical community now recognizes the importance of effectively managing pain and considers it the fifth vital sign. However, quantifying pain remains a challenge as it is subjective and varies from person to person.

Types of Pain Scales

Various pain scales have been developed to measure pain objectively. Early attempts, such as the Dolorimeter, proved ineffective. Machines and devices were later used to measure pain, including a ray gun and a shin bone pressure machine. The Wong Baker faces were specifically designed to help children report their pain.

The Importance of Accurate Pain Assessment

Pain affects a significant portion of the population, with millions of people suffering from acute or chronic pain. Accurate pain assessment is crucial for effective treatment. Pain scales need to consider the unique needs of different populations, such as children, the elderly, and cognitively impaired patients. Physicians can rely on self-reporting and observational cues to assess pain levels and tailor treatment accordingly.


Pain scales play a vital role in the medical field, enabling healthcare professionals to assess and manage pain effectively. While quantifying pain remains a challenge, advancements in pain measurement techniques have improved patient care. The podcast hosts provide valuable insights into the complexities of pain scales, highlighting the importance of accurate pain assessment for better treatment outcomes.

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