Comparative prospective evaluation of the responsiveness of single-item pediatric pain-intensity self-report scales and their uniqueness from negative affect in a hospital setting

J Pain. 2010 Dec;11(12):1451-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2010.04.011. Epub 2010 Jun 20.


Evaluating pain in verbal children in the hospital setting is done primarily through serial assessments of pain intensity using single-item measures. However, little remains known about intensity scales' relative responsiveness and uniqueness from negative affect in this clinical setting. In the present study, a total of 411 assessments using 3 common pediatric pain intensity measures (the Faces Pain Scale-Revised, a verbally presented numeric rating scale, and a visual analog scale) were obtained over a period of 3 days from 29 children ages 9 to 18 years following a relatively standardized surgical procedure. Hierarchical linear models were used to compare the 3 scales on responsiveness over postoperative recovery time, invariance across baseline variables (age, sex, and baseline mood), and distinctiveness from changes in negative affect. Results showed that all 3 pain-intensity measures were highly interrelated, varied similarly with age and baseline state anxiety, and were comparably related to contemporaneous changes in affect. However, patients tended to rate pain intensity higher on the Numerical Rating Scale, and only this scale failed to reflect a decreasing trend in pain scores with elapsed surgical recovery time. Potential implications for clinical practice are discussed.

Perspective: This article presents data comparing the responsiveness over time and association with negative affect of 3 single-item pediatric pain-intensity scales commonly used in hospital settings. The results can help inform the selection of self-report measures when serially evaluating pain and treatment response in hospitalized children.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Hospitals / standards*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Pain Measurement / standards
  • Pain, Postoperative / diagnosis*
  • Severity of Illness Index