How To Be Successful at Pain Assessment Nursing


Pain assessment nursing is challenging, especially for travel nurses! You’re popping into different healthcare facilities who may treat pain differently, and you are caring for patients who you don’t necessarily know as well as you would if you were their nurse full time. However, it’s easier if you understand the background challenges of assessing pain, why it is so important, and what tools are available to you so that you can evaluate pain successfully. Let’s dive in!

What is pain assessment nursing?

Pain assessment is exactly as it sounds – assessing patients’ pain levels to determine how to help them. There are two types of pain – acute and chronic. Acute pain is the type of pain patients experience after surgery or injury. Chronic pain is something long term that is typically caused by a disease or illness. Chronic pain is hard to manage because it’s ongoing and relentless. Although acute pain sounds easier to work with, historically speaking, healthcare providers have not been the best at helping patients manage this pain, according to a report in the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

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Why is pain assessment nursing so challenging?

Pain assessment is challenging because it’s hard to know exactly what a patient’s pain levels are. Some patients exaggerate their pain levels in order to get more medicine. Others downplay their pain levels because they are “tough” or just have a better pain tolerance. For this reason, there are different methods of pain assessment you can use in order to get a better handle on the type of pain your patient is experiencing. There are many factors that play into how you approach each patient, such as their age, their pain treatment history, and whether you’re trying to treat them for chronic or acute pain.

What happens when pain is left unmanaged?

When pain is left unmanaged, patients can experience so many other symptoms aside from the physical pain. These include anxiety, depression, and even a weakened immune system.

When someone is in pain, it is irritating and often leads them to feel anxious. The pain can also prevent them from doing the things that they like to do. This can lead to isolation and depression. Lastly, mental health plays a huge role in physical health, and over time feeling down and out mentally can actually lead to patients getting sick more often. So, how can you as a nurse ask the right questions so that you are assessing pain properly?

Are you asking patients the right questions?

Let’s find out… are you asking patients the right questions when it comes to pain assessment nursing?

First, it’s important to understand your patient’s medical history when it comes to pain and any previous pain treatment they received. You should find out:

  • What affect has previous or current instances of pain had on the patient?
  • How have they controlled their pain in the past and was it helpful or not?
  • What are their feelings toward opioids, and do they have a history of substance abuse?
  • How does the patient show or describe pain?
  • How do they cope with pain and what are their expectations and understandings of pain management?

Once you evaluate their history, there are many different tools available to help you and the patient get on the same page about their pain levels. These tools vary depending on the age of the patient. For example, you should evaluate children differently than you do adults or even the elderly.

Kids might respond better to the Wong-Baker faces pain scale, whereas adults might be able to say their pain level on a scale of 1 through 10. Another thing to consider other than their pain level and the location of their pain – is it influenced by any outside factors? For example, is the pain worse when they are hot or cold, stressed, when their bladder is full? This can give you a better handle on how to manage it.

Do you have any additional tips or comments about pain assessment nursing? Leave them in the comments below!

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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