Response scale selection in adult pain measures: results from a literature review

J Patient Rep Outcomes. 2018 Sep 6;2:40. doi: 10.1186/s41687-018-0053-6. eCollection 2017.


Background: The purpose of this literature review was to examine the existing patient-reported outcome measurement literature to understand the empirical evidence supporting response scale selection in pain measurement for the adult population.

Methods: The search strategy involved a comprehensive, structured, literature review with multiple search objectives and search terms.

Results: The searched yielded 6918 abstracts which were reviewed against study criteria for eligibility across the adult pain objective. The review included 42 review articles, consensus guidelines, expert opinion pieces, and primary research articles providing insights into optimal response scale selection for pain assessment in the adult population. Based on the extensive and varied literature on pain assessments, the adult pain studies typically use simple response scales with single-item measures of pain-a numeric rating scale, visual analog scale, or verbal rating scale. Across 42 review articles, consensus guidelines, expert opinion pieces, and primary research articles, the NRS response scale was most often recommended in these guidance documents. When reviewing the empirical basis for these recommendations, we found that the NRS had slightly superior measurement properties (e.g., reliability, validity, responsiveness) across a wide variety of contexts of use as compared to other response scales.

Conclusions: Both empirical studies and review articles provide evidence that the 11-point NRS is likely the optimal response scale to evaluate pain among adult patients without cognitive impairment.

Keywords: Outcome measurement; Pain; Rating scales; Response options; Response scales.

Publication types

  • Review