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Pain Research and Management
Volume 7 (2002), Issue 4, Pages 192-198
Original Article

Interpreting the Meaning of Pain Severity Scores

Marilyn J Hodgins

Faculty of Nursing, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

Received 21 January 2002; Accepted 25 June 2002

Copyright © 2002 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Poor pain management practices are generally discussed in terms of barriers associated with the patient, clinician and/or health care organization. The impact of deficiencies in the tools that are used to measure pain are seldom addressed. Three factors are discussed that complicate the measurement of pain: the nature of pain, the lack of meaning associated with scores generated by pain scales, and treatment goals that lack specificity and are not linked to patients' pain scores. The major premise presented in the present article is that the utility of pain measurement is limited because health care professionals do not have a common understanding of the meaning of scores generated by pain measurement tools, especially within the acute care setting. To address this issue, approaches to establishing instrument validity need to be broadened to include the examination of the meaning and consequences of these measurements within a specific context. Substantive improvements in pain management are unlikely to occur until criteria are identified to link explicitly the scores generated by pain measurement tools to treatment goals.