How to Perform PQRST Pain Assessments

SimpleNursing Editorial Team Apr 4, 2023
Female Nurse tending patient in intensive care

One of the many components of patient assessment includes the PQRST scale for pain.

The PQRST pain assessment is essential for healthcare providers, including nursing students, to gather information about a patient’s pain. 

PQRST stands for Provocation, Quality, Region (or Radiation), Severity (or Scale), and Timing.

By understanding the provocation or palliation, quality, region or radiation, severity, and timing of a patient’s pain, healthcare providers can develop a more comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the patient’s unique needs.

What does PQRST stand for?

The acronym “PQRST” guides pain assessment, with each letter standing for a different area of inquiry. 

The assessment helps health care providers understand the nature and severity of a patient’s pain, which can inform treatment decisions.

Each letter in PQRST stands for:

P – Provocation or Palliation: This refers to what provokes or alleviates the pain. Healthcare providers may ask patients what triggers their pain or makes it worse and what makes it feel better. For example, the patient may report that certain activities or movements worsen their pain, or that it is alleviated by rest or medication.

Q – Quality refers to the pain’s nature or quality. Healthcare providers may ask patients to describe their pain in their own words. For example, the patient may describe their pain as sharp, dull, throbbing, or burning.

R – Region or Radiation: This letter refers to where the pain is located and if it radiates to other body areas. Healthcare providers may ask patients to point to where the pain is located and if it spreads to other areas. For example, a patient may report pain in their left arm that radiates up to their shoulder.

S – Severity: This letter refers to the intensity of the pain. Healthcare providers may ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain imaginable. This rating can help healthcare providers understand how severe the pain is and how it impacts the patient’s daily life.

T – Timing: This letter refers to when the pain occurs and how long it lasts. Healthcare providers may ask patients how long they have been experiencing pain, if it is constant or intermittent, and if it occurs at a certain time of day or in response to certain activities.

For example, a patient may report that their pain has been present for the past week and occurs every morning when they wake up.

The PQRST Assessment for Pain

Here’s what to ask a patient during the PQRST pain assessment:

  • P: What makes the pain worse or better?
  • Q: What type of pain is it? Is it sharp, dull, burning, or aching?
  • R: Where is the pain located, and does it radiate to other areas of the body?
  • S: How severe is the pain on a scale of 0-10?
  • T: When did the pain start? Is it constant or does it come and go?

This information can help health care providers determine the cause of the pain and develop an appropriate care plan. 

Additionally, using a standardized pain assessment tool like the PQRST can help ensure that all patients receive consistent and comprehensive pain assessment.

PQRST in Nursing

The PQRST pain assessment is used in everyday nursing practice to systematically evaluate a patient’s pain, and the acronym PQRST stands for the different aspects of the assessment.

By using the PQRST pain assessment, nurses can comprehensively understand a patient’s pain, including the location, intensity, quality, and aggravating factors. This information can be used to develop a care plan tailored to the patient’s needs and monitor pain management interventions’ effectiveness over time. 

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