Can You Objectively Measure Pain?

Posted on in Clinical, News
Can You Objectively Measure Pain?

Pain is a common symptom associated with a patient’s clinical presentation.  Understanding pain is extremely important to help guide clinical decision making as well as the entire episode of care.  Pains allows us to truly understand what the patient is experiencing, their belief systems, values, treatment preferences, and expectations.  Gathering this data is essential to develop the most effective plan of care possible. 

Measuring pain can be tough as it is very individualized and very subjective to each person.  This can help guide the clinician on specific interventions or treatment approaches to utilize. For example, when you perform a manual technique in which decreases the patient’s pain level considerably, then hopefully this is pointing you in the right direction. However, if pain levels increase, perhaps it is either the wrong choice of intervention or other contributing factors may be at play.  Either way, the information gathered will be useful.

Clinicians may be familiar with the following pain measurement instruments: Numerical Pain Rating Scale (NPRS), Visual Analogue Scale (VAS), and the Wong-Baker Faces Pain Scale. Each of these methods of obtaining pain levels are great for clinical practice.

These are commonly used instruments during initial evaluations and treatment sessions. The information is quite useful, but sometimes this can be challenging as values can certainly change due to subjectivity of pain. 

Therefore, we need a more objective way of measuring an individual’s pain level.


You can evaluate pain threshold of a patient. A standardized flat circular probe is pushed against subject until pain threshold is reached. The device measures in pounds and kilograms. The dolorimeter can have a capacity of 2, 5, 10, 22, or 60 pounds.

Having an objective data point can really help clinician measure more accurately pain thresholds of their patients. Of course, this is only one data point and should be used in conjunction with other information, but this is a great way to objectify the measurement.

Pain is sometimes challenging to measure or describe. Patients experience pain in different ways, and we need to recognize this. Recognizing this will allow clinician’s to better find a way to understand their patients so they can be better managed during their respective episode of care.

To learn more about Dolorimeters, click here.

Article Written By Eric Trauber, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, FAAOMPT