Assessment of pain

Br J Anaesth. 2008 Jul;101(1):17-24. doi: 10.1093/bja/aen103. Epub 2008 May 16.


Valid and reliable assessment of pain is essential for both clinical trials and effective pain management. The nature of pain makes objective measurement impossible. Acute pain can be reliably assessed, both at rest (important for comfort) and during movement (important for function and risk of postoperative complications), with one-dimensional tools such as numeric rating scales or visual analogue scales. Both these are more powerful in detecting changes in pain intensity than a verbal categorical rating scale. In acute pain trials, assessment of baseline pain must ensure sufficient pain intensity for the trial to detect meaningful treatment effects. Chronic pain assessment and its impact on physical, emotional, and social functions require multidimensional qualitative tools and health-related quality of life instruments. Several disease- and patient-specific functional scales are useful, such as the Western Ontario and MacMaster Universities for osteoarthritis, and several neuropathic pain screening tools. The Initiative on

Methods: Measurement, and Pain Assessment in Clinical Trials recommendations for outcome measurements of chronic pain trials are also useful for routine assessment. Cancer pain assessment is complicated by a number of other bodily and mental symptoms such as fatigue and depression, all affecting quality of life. It is noteworthy that quality of life reported by chronic pain patients can be as much affected as that of terminal cancer patients. Any assessment of pain must take into account other factors, such as cognitive impairment or dementia, and assessment tools validated in the specific patient groups being studied.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Movement
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Pain, Postoperative / diagnosis
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Analgesics