Pain Scale Explained

Pain Scale Explained

During a Marine fitness training event in October of 2019, I learned something new about the pain scale. One of the events included a buddy placing their partner on their shoulders and running a given distance. With the rough terrain, injuries did occur; and there were appropriate medical staff on hand for exactly that. My buddy, while attempting to carry me, stumbled, ramming both my chest and groin deep onto his bony shoulders.

After I made him put me down, I couldn’t stand up straight with the sharp stabbing pain in my chest, so I hobbled off the field and figured I could just walk it off. The next day, after the throbbing subsided in my chest, I doubled over again. This time with a sharp stabbing pain in my groin and lower abdomen.

Misclassifying Pain

While the pain felt noticeable, even distracting, I didn’t classify it as anything more than a three. Because of my uneducated response when the nurse asked my pain level, it took four months to get the appropriate surgery to fix my injury.

When you go into a doctors office, the triage nurse will usually point to a scale similar to figure 1 and ask you if you feel any pain. They never bother explaining what the stupid emojis mean.

Common Pain Scale
Figure 1. Common Pain Scale used in most doctor’s offices.

During my recovery, I finally read what each level meant on the pain scale. Hopefully, the following table helps explain a little bit more.

The Pain Scale Explained

1Very light, barely noticeable pain, like a mosquito bite. Most of the time you never think about the pain.😀
2Minor pain, like a light pinch with fingernails. Easy pain to ignore.🙂
3Very noticeable pain, like an accidental cut or a punch to the nose. Eventually, you can ignore the pain.😐
4Strong, deep pain, like an average toothache, the initial sting of a bee, or minor trauma to part of the body. Strong enough that you notice the pain all the time and cannot ignore it.😑
5Strong, deep, piercing pain like a sprained ankle when you stand on it wrong, or a mild back pain. You notice the pain all the time, and spend so much time managing it that maintaining a normal lifestyle causes some difficulty.🙁
6Strong, deep, piercing pain, so strong it seems to partially dominate your senses, causing you to difficulty thinking. At this point, you begin to have trouble holding a job, or maintaining social relationships.🥺
7Similar to #6, except pain completely dominates your senses, causing you difficulty thinking most of the time. At this point, you are effectively disabled and should not live alone.😢
8Pain so intense you can no longer think clearly at all. If the pain remains untreated you will undergo severe personality changes. You may contemplate or attempt suicide without proper care.😭
9Pain so intense you cannot tolerate it and demand pain killers or surgery, no matter the side effects or risk. Without any sense of joy or relief, suicide remains a high risk.🤕
10Pain so intense you will go unconscious shortly. Most people have never experienced this level of pain. A crushed limb or severe trauma causes this level of pain. 💀

Injury Prevention

Understanding the pain scale can help you avoid serious injury. First off, you need some serious self-reflection. If the pain causes an interruption in your day-to-day life, you need to see a doctor. Don’t assume that because it doesn’t feel “that bad” that you should automatically classify it lower.

Everyone feels pain differently based on their fitness level, overall health, and genetic factors. Consequently, understanding the pain scale will help you get the help you need from health professionals.

Suicide Hotlines

If you, or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please contact one of these hotlines immediately:

Emergency Services9-1-1
National Suicide Hotline1-800-273-8255
Text HOME to:741741


  • Cree Dalene began writing in 2002, for a short story competition. Over the years, Cree developed a love for sharing ideas. Soon that included sharing other skills like cooking, fitness, and programming.

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