Beyond measurement: a deep dive into the commonly used pain scales for postoperative pain assessment

Korean J Pain. 2024 Jul 1;37(3):188-200. doi: 10.3344/kjp.24069.


This review explores the essential methodologies for effective postoperative pain management, focusing on the need for thorough pain assessment tools, as underscored in various existing guidelines. Herein, the strengths and weaknesses of commonly used pain scales for postoperative pain-the Visual Analog Scale, Numeric Rating Scale, Verbal Rating Scale, and Faces Pain Scale-are evaluated, highlighting the importance of selecting appropriate assessment tools based on factors influencing their effectiveness in surgical contexts. By emphasizing the need to comprehend the minimal clinically important difference (MCID) for these scales in evaluating new analgesic interventions and monitoring pain trajectories over time, this review advocates recognizing the limitations of common pain scales to improve pain assessment strategies, ultimately enhancing postoperative pain management. Finally, five recommendations for pain assessment in research on postoperative pain are provided: first, selecting an appropriate pain scale tailored to the patient group, considering the strengths and weaknesses of each scale; second, simultaneously assessing the intensity of postoperative pain at rest and during movement; third, conducting evaluations at specific time points and monitoring trends over time; fourth, extending the focus beyond the intensity of postoperative pain to include its impact on postoperative functional recovery; and lastly, interpreting the findings while considering the MCID, ensuring that it is clinically significant for the chosen pain scale. These recommendations broaden our understanding of postoperative pain and provide insights that contribute to more effective pain management strategies, thereby enhancing patient care outcomes.

Keywords: Pain; Pain Measurement; Perioperative Care; Postoperative; Postoperative Care; Postoperative Period; Visual Analog Scale.

Publication types

  • Review