Validity and Reliability of the Verbal Numerical Rating Scale for Children Aged 4 to 17 Years With Acute Pain

      Study objective

      The Verbal Numerical Rating Scale is the most commonly used self-report measure of pain intensity. It is unclear how the validity and reliability of the scale scores vary across children’s ages. We aimed to determine the validity and reliability of the scale for children presenting to the emergency department across a comprehensive spectrum of age.


      This was a cross-sectional study of children aged 4 to 17 years. Children self-reported their pain intensity, using the Verbal Numerical Rating Scale and Faces Pain Scale–Revised at 2 serial assessments. We evaluated convergent validity (strong validity defined as correlation coefficient ≥0.60), agreement (difference between concurrent Verbal Numerical Rating Scale and Faces Pain Scale–Revised scores), known-groups validity (difference in score between children with painful versus nonpainful conditions), responsivity (decrease in score after analgesic administration), and reliability (test-retest at 2 serial assessments) in the total sample and subgroups based on age.


      We enrolled 760 children; 27 did not understand the Verbal Numerical Rating Scale and were removed. Of the remainder, Pearson correlations were strong to very strong (0.62 to 0.96) in all years of age except 4 and 5 years, and agreement was strong for children aged 8 and older. Known-groups validity and responsivity were strong in all years of age. Reliability was strong in all age subgroups, including each year of age from 4 to 7 years.


      Convergent validity, known-groups validity, responsivity, and reliability of the Verbal Numerical Rating Scale were strong for children aged 6 to 17 years. Convergent validity was not strong for children aged 4 and 5 years. Our findings support the use of the Verbal Numerical Rating Scale for most children aged 6 years and older, but not for those aged 4 and 5 years.
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