Measurement of pain

Surg Clin North Am. 1999 Apr;79(2):231-52. doi: 10.1016/s0039-6109(05)70381-9.


Pain is a personal, subjective experience influenced by cultural learning, the meaning of the situation, attention, and other psychologic variables. Approaches to the measurement of pain include verbal and numeric self-rating scales, behavioral observation scales, and physiologic responses. The complex nature of the experience of pain suggests that measurements from these domains may not always show high concordance. Because pain is subjective, patients' self-reports provide the most valid measure of the experience. The VAS and the MPQ are probably the most frequently used self-rating instruments for the measurement of pain in clinical and research settings. The MPQ is designed to assess the multidimensional nature of pain experience and has been demonstrated to be a reliable, valid, and consistent measurement tool. A short-form MPQ is available for use in specific research settings when the time to obtain information from patients is limited and when more information than simply the intensity of pain is desired. The DDS was developed using sophisticated psychophysical techniques and was designed to measure separately the sensory and unpleasantness dimensions of pain. It has been shown to be a valid and reliable measurement of pain with ratio-scaling properties and has recently been used in a clinical setting. Behavioral approaches to the measurement of pain also provide valuable data. Further development and refinement of pain measurement techniques will lead to increasingly accurate tools with greater predictive powers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Psychometrics
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*