Comparing pain intensity rating scales in acute postoperative pain: boundary values and category disagreements

R. A. Moore, P. R.D. Clephas, S. Straube, M. M. Wertli, J. Ireson-Paige, M. Heesen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Pain intensity assessment scales are important in evaluating postoperative pain and guiding management. Different scales can be used for patients to self-report their pain, but research determining cut points between mild, moderate and severe pain has been limited to studies with < 1500 patients. We examined 13,017 simultaneous acute postoperative pain ratings from 913 patients taken at rest and on activity, between 4 h and 48 h following surgery using both a verbal rating scale (no, mild, moderate or severe pain) and 0–100 mm visual analogue scale. We determined the best cut points on the visual analogue scale between mild and moderate pain as 35 mm, and moderate and severe pain as 80 mm. These remained consistent for pain at rest and on activity, and over time. We also explored the presence of category disagreements, defined as patients verbally describing no or mild pain scored above the mild/moderate cut point on the visual analogue scale, and patients verbally describing moderate or severe pain scored below the mild/moderate cut point on the visual analogue scale. Using 30 and 60 mm cut points, 1533 observations (12%) showed a category disagreement and using 35 and 80 mm cut points, 1632 (13%) showed a category disagreement. Around 1 in 8 simultaneous pain scores implausibly disagreed, possibly resulting in incorrect pain reporting. The reasons are not known but low rates of literacy and numeracy may be contributing factors. Understanding these disagreements between pain scales is important for pain research and medical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-146
Number of pages8
JournalAnaesthesia
Volume79
Issue number2
Early online date6 Dec 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Association of Anaesthetists.

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