Acute Pain Nursing Diagnosis and Care Plan for 2023

Managing acute pain is a critical aspect of patient care, especially for nurses. Ensuring effective pain relief not only enhances patient comfort, but also expedites recovery.

How can healthcare professionals effectively assess and manage acute pain, considering the various factors that influence pain perception and the diverse population affected?

Let’s delve into the world of acute pain nursing diagnosis and explore its intricacies in pain management.

Short Summary

  • Acute pain is a temporary, protective discomfort with varying intensity and sensation between individuals.
  • Identifying the causes and symptoms of acute pain is essential for successful management through comprehensive assessment tools, patient history/physical examination, setting goals/outcomes & incorporating pharmacological/non-pharmacological interventions.
  • Special considerations must be taken into account when managing acute pain in infants/children, older adults & those with a history of addiction.

Understanding Acute Pain: Definition and Characteristics

Acute pain is a sudden, short-term discomfort that can last for 3-6 months, serving as a warning sign of potential disease, trauma, or illness. This protective mechanism alerts individuals to the presence of an injury or illness. Acute pain can be described as sharp or stabbing. It may also manifest as a burning sensation.

However, the perception of pain varies between individuals, influenced by factors such as cultural background, emotions, and psychological or spiritual discomfort.

Types of Acute Pain

Acute pain can be classified as nociceptive, neuropathic, radicular, or visceral. Nociceptive pain, caused by an injury to body tissues, is a common type of pain experienced in situations ranging from paper cuts to arthritis or cancer.

Neuropathic pain, on the other hand, results from damage to the neurons in the peripheral or central nervous system, with potential causes including multiple sclerosis and diabetic neuropathy. Radicular pain is caused by compression on nerve roots or spinal injury, while visceral pain originates from internal organs in the abdomen and pelvis.

Factors Influencing Acute Pain Perception

The perception of acute pain is influenced by various factors such as age, sex, mental health, and substance use. Age, for instance, has been linked to increased sensitivity to pain in older adults due to changes in the body’s processing of pain signals.

Sex can also play a role, as hormonal changes may cause women to be more sensitive to pain. Mental health and substance use can significantly impact pain perception, as factors like anxiety, depression, and fear can all influence how pain is experienced.

Identifying Causes and Symptoms of Acute Pain

Recognizing the causes and symptoms of acute pain is essential for effective pain management. Common causes of acute pain include blunt trauma, fractures, surgical procedures, dental interventions, lacerations and infections, burns, pulled or strained muscles, fever, and infection.

Acute pain may present as sharp or dull sensations, throbbing, aching, burning, stinging, or tingling, accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sweating, increased heart rate, and difficulty sleeping.

Common Causes

Typical causes of patients experiencing acute pain include blunt trauma, fractures, surgery or postoperative pain, dental work, labor, lacerations and infections, burns, muscle strains, fever, and infection.

The presence of acute pain often triggers verbal reports, crying, changes in vital signs, alterations in appetite or sleep patterns, and guarding or protective behavior.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of acute pain can vary, including sharp pain, throbbing, burning, stabbing pain, tingling, weakness, increased blood pressure and numbness. Physical symptoms like fatigue, muscle spasms, and flu-like symptoms, as well as emotional symptoms like anxiety, depression, and insomnia, may also be present.

Generally, acute pain arises suddenly and is caused by something specific, usually subsiding within six months.

Comprehensive Pain Assessment for Acute Pain Management

A comprehensive pain assessment is crucial to devise an efficient pain management plan. This process involves using standard protocols and appropriate pain scales, while being thorough to identify any potential underlying complications.

Let’s explore some essential tools and techniques used in pain assessment for acute pain management.

Pain Assessment Tools

Various pain assessment tools are available for evaluating acute pain, such as the Brief Pain Inventory, Wong-Baker Faces Pain Scale, FLACC, visual analogue scale, numerical rating pain scale, and the Indiana Polyclinic Combined Pain Scale.

These tools are particularly useful for patients who cannot self-report pain, as they assess and treat pain through severity, quality, onset/duration, location, radiation, aggravating/relieving factors, and follow-up assessments.

Patient History and Physical Examination

An essential part of pain assessment, patient history, and physical examination helps identify the source of pain and determine if a higher medication dosage is needed.

This process involves gathering relevant patient history and conducting a thorough physical examination.

Developing an Individualized Nursing Care Plan for Acute Pain

Creating a personalized nursing care plan for acute pain management is crucial, as it ensures that the patient receives the most effective pain relief while mitigating potential adverse effects and complications. By setting goals and expected outcomes tailored to the patient and considering contributing factors, healthcare professionals can develop a comprehensive plan that addresses the patient’s unique needs.

Setting Goals and Expected Outcomes

The objectives of an individualized nursing care plan for acute pain are to decrease pain intensity, enhance patient comfort, and enhance patient functioning.

The anticipated results of an individualized nursing care plan for acute pain include improved pain control, enhanced patient comfort, and improved patient functioning.

Incorporating Non-Pharmacological and Pharmacological Interventions

Incorporating non-pharmacological and pharmacological interventions in the nursing care plan ensures effective pain relief while avoiding complications. Non-pharmacological interventions, such as massage, relaxation techniques, and promoting rest, can be used in combination with pain medications and other nursing interventions to optimize patient comfort and recovery.

Implementing Nursing Interventions for Acute Pain

Putting nursing interventions for acute pain management into practice is essential for patient care. Regular assessment of the patient’s pain and the effectiveness of their pain management plan, administering pain medication prior to painful procedures, and providing recovery time for patients to rest and recuperate are some effective nursing interventions for acute pain.

These interventions can help reduce the patient’s pain and improve their quality of life. Nurses should be aware of the different types of pain medications available and how they can use them.

Non-Pharmacological Interventions

Non-pharmacological pain relief methods, such as visualization exercises and heat/cold applications, can be employed to augment pain relief efforts. Additionally, changing positions to relieve pressure and allowing patients ample time to report pain can further enhance pain management outcomes.

Pharmacological Interventions

For patients with pain that does not respond to non-pharmacological measures, pain medications are a crucial component of acute pain management. Types of pain medication include analgesics and nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs, which can be used to treat mild to moderate pain and are often combined with other pain management techniques for increased effectiveness.

Monitoring and Evaluating Acute Pain Management

Monitoring and evaluating acute pain management is essential, as it enables healthcare professionals to assess patient progress and response, and adjust the nursing care plan as needed.

This process involves regularly assessing the patient’s pain intensity and response to treatment, as well as identifying any potential complications or side effects.

Assessing Patient Progress and Response

To assess the patient’s progress and response to pain management, healthcare professionals should use various pain assessment tools, such as the Numeric Rating Scale (NRS), Verbal Descriptor Scale (VDS), Pain thermometer, and Visual Analogue Scale (VAS). By tracking the patient’s pain symptoms, expectations, and willingness to try different pain management techniques, healthcare professionals can make informed decisions about the most effective course of action.

Pain assessment tools provide healthcare professionals with valuable information about the patient’s condition and response to treatment. This data can be used to adjust the treatment plan and ensure the patient is receiving the best possible care.

Adjusting the Nursing Care Plan as Needed

Evaluating the patient’s response to pain relief measures and understanding how the pain is perceived allows healthcare professionals to adjust the nursing care plan accordingly. Administering a supplementary dose of medication or consulting the provider about adding further pain medication may be necessary to manage pain. Alternative methods of pain management and/or discontinuing medication causing side effects also need to be considered, and finding an alternative option may be necessary.

Special Considerations for Acute Pain Management

Certain populations, such as infants and children, older adults, and individuals with a history of addiction, require special considerations for acute pain management. By understanding the unique needs of these populations, healthcare professionals can create more effective pain management plans that take into account their specific challenges and requirements.

Infants and Children

Infants and children require special attention in acute pain management, as they may have difficulty communicating their pain or understanding the pain relief measures being provided. Using age-appropriate pain scales and providing comfort measures tailored to their needs can help ensure effective pain management for this population.

Older Adults

Older adults may have difficulty communicating their pain due to cognitive decline, sensory-perceptual impairments, or other age-related challenges.

Nurses and healthcare professionals should be aware of subtle signs of pain in this population and make adjustments to their pain management plan to accommodate these challenges.

Patients with a History of Addiction

Patients with a history of addiction require special considerations for acute pain management, as they may be more susceptible to the development of dependence or addiction to pain medications. Close monitoring of opioid dosages and the potential for abuse is essential when treating patients with a history of addiction to ensure effective pain management while minimizing the risk of relapse or worsening of the addiction disorder.

It is important to consider the patient’s history of addiction when prescribing pain medications, as well as the potential for abuse. Close monitoring of opioid dosages and the potential for abuse is essential to ensure effective pain management while minimizing the risk of relapse.

Acute Pain Nursing Diagnosis

Nursing Diagnoses for Acute Pain

  1. Acute Pain related to hip fracture secondary to fall, as evidenced by pain score of 10 out of 10, guarding sign on the affected limb, restlessness, and irritability.
  2. Deficient Knowledge related to acute pain management as evidenced by patient’s verbalization of “I want to know more how to relieve the pain.”
  3. Activity Intolerance related to acute pain as evidenced by pain.
  4. Acute Pain related to infection secondary to pleurisy as evidenced by pain score of 10 out of 10, pain upon inhalation, and shortness of breath.
  5. Imbalanced Nutrition: Less than Body Requirements related to decrease food intake secondary to acute abdominal pain as evidenced by weight loss, abdominal muscle spasms, poor muscle tone and lack of appetite

Expected Outcomes for Acute Pain

  • The patient will report a pain score of 0 out of 10.
  • The patient demonstrates appropriate non-pharmacologic pain management techniques.
  • The patient exhibits understanding of the self-administration of pain medications.
  • The patient will demonstrate active participation in necessary and desired activities.
  • The patient will demonstrate an increase in activity levels.
  • The patient will be able to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of his/her acute pain and its management.

Nursing Assessment and Rationales

  • Assess the patient’s level of mobility and ability to perform ADLs to determine their baseline functioning. This assessment helps to identify the patient’s limitations, needs, and abilities while dealing with acute pain.
  • Assess the patient’s vital signs.   This helps create a baseline set of observations for the patient.
  • Ask the patient to describe the pain they are experiencing and rate the pain from 0 to 10. The 10-point pain scale is a standardized pain rating tool used globally. non-verbal pain scales such as Abbey Pain Scale and Wong-Baker Faces Pain Scale) may also be used.
  • Assess the patient’s readiness to learn, misconceptions, and blocks to learning (e.g., denial of diagnosis or poor lifestyle habits).To address the patient’s cognition and mental status towards pain management.

Nursing Interventions and Rationales

  • Administer pain medications as prescribed. This provides effective acute pain relief to the patient.
  • Ask the patient to re-rate his/her acute pain 30 minutes to an hour after administering the analgesic. To assess the effectiveness of treatment and monitor their condition.
  • Provide more analgesics at recommended/prescribed intervals. This promotes pain relief and patient comfort without the risk of overdose.
  • Reposition the patient in his/her comfortable/preferred position. Repositioning helps relieve pressure to a body part and promotes comfort.
  • Encourage pursed lip breathing and deep breathing exercises. This promotes optimal patient comfort and reduces anxiety and restlessness without total dependance to pharmacologic interventions.
  •  Refer the patient to a pain specialist as required. This enables the patient to receive more information and specialized care if current efforts for pain management are deemed ineffective.
  • Explain what his/her pain management program entails (e.g., medications, relaxation techniques, related physiotherapy or exercises). To provide information on his/her pain management program.
  • Inform the patient of the details about the prescribed medications (e.g., drug class, use, benefits, side effects, and risks) to treat acute pain. Ask the patient to repeat or demonstrate the self-administration details to you. To inform the patient of each prescribed drug and to ensure that the patient fully understands the purpose, possible side effects, adverse events, and self-administration details.
  • Educate the patient about non-pharmacological methods for acute pain such as guided imagery, recommended exercises, and relaxation techniques. To reduce stress and to promote optimal pain relief without total dependence on pharmacological means.
  • Encourage progressive activity through self-care and exercise as tolerated. Explain the need to reduce sedentary activities such as watching television and using social media over long periods. Alternate periods of physical activity with 60-90 minutes of undisturbed rest. To gradually increase the patient’s tolerance to physical activity and   prevent triggering of acute pain by allowing the patient to pace activity versus rest.


Acute pain management is a critical aspect of patient care, and healthcare professionals must be well-equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to effectively assess and manage pain. By understanding the various factors that influence pain perception, recognizing the signs and symptoms of acute pain, and developing individualized nursing care plans that incorporate both pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions, healthcare professionals can help patients achieve optimal pain relief and improved quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the nursing diagnosis for acute pain?

Nursing Diagnosis: Acute pain related to psychological distress as evidenced by patient verbalizing pain, altered behavior, and decreased mobility.

Within 4 hours of nursing interventions, the patient will demonstrate improved mobility and decreased pain verbalizations.

What is acute pain related to and as evidenced by?

Acute pain is often related to an injury or illness, and can be evidenced through physical symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, and moaning.

Hyperthermia is also a common symptom of inflammation, a hypermetabolic state, and dehydration, which can indicate more serious health issues.

What is acute pain diagnosis?

Acute pain is an uncomfortable experience that is caused by a sudden physical injury, illness, or life event. It can be sharp, intense, and cause extreme discomfort, and it usually subsides as the condition improves.

Diagnosis of acute pain typically involves understanding the cause of the pain, such as an injury or infection, in order to identify the best course of treatment.

What is the definition of acute pain in nursing?

Acute pain is a brief, intense sensation that can range from uncomfortable to severe. It’s usually associated with tissue damage or irritation and typically has a rapid onset followed by a resolution when the underlying cause is treated or healed.

This type of pain is distinct from chronic pain, which is prolonged.

Nursing References

Ackley, B. J., Ladwig, G. B., Makic, M. B., Martinez-Kratz, M. R., & Zanotti, M. (2020). Nursing diagnoses handbook: An evidence-based guide to planning care. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier. 

Gulanick, M., & Myers, J. L. (2017). Nursing care plans: Diagnoses, interventions, & outcomes. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.

Hyland SJ, Wetshtein AM, Grable SJ, Jackson MP. Acute Pain Management Pearls: A Focused Review for the Hospital Clinician. Healthcare. 2023; 11(1):34.

Ignatavicius, D. D., Workman, M. L., Rebar, C. R., & Heimgartner, N. M. (2018). Medical-surgical nursing: Concepts for interprofessional collaborative care. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier. 

Johnson, Q., Borsheski, R. R., & Reeves-Viets, J. L. (2013). Pain management mini-series. Part I. A review of management of acute pain. Missouri medicine110(1), 74–79.

Silvestri, L. A. (2020). Saunders comprehensive review for the NCLEX-RN examination. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier. 

Wardhan, R., & Chelly, J. (2017). Recent advances in acute pain management: understanding the mechanisms of acute pain, the prescription of opioids, and the role of multimodal pain therapy. F1000Research6, 2065.


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The Nursing Diagnosis Handbook E-Book: An Evidence-Based Guide to Planning Care

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Photo of author
Anna Curran. RN, BSN, PHN

Anna Curran. RN, BSN, PHN
Clinical Nurse Instructor

Emergency Room Registered Nurse
Critical Care Transport Nurse
Clinical Nurse Instructor for LVN and BSN students

Anna began writing extra materials to help her BSN and LVN students with their studies and writing nursing care plans. She takes the topics that the students are learning and expands on them to try to help with their understanding of the nursing process and help nursing students pass the NCLEX exams.

Her experience spans almost 30 years in nursing, starting as an LVN in 1993. She received her RN license in 1997. She has worked in Medical-Surgical, Telemetry, ICU and the ER. She found a passion in the ER and has stayed in this department for 30 years.

She is a clinical instructor for LVN and BSN students and a Emergency Room RN / Critical Care Transport Nurse.

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