According to the American Burn Association, an estimated 450,000 burn injuries receive medical treatment each year. A burn injury is one of the most painful injuries a person can endure, and the subsequent wound debridement required to heal the burn injury is often more painful than the initial injury.

Burn pain is difficult to control because of its unique characteristics, its changing patterns, and its various components. In addition, there is pain involved in the treatment of burns as the wounds must be cleansed and the dressings changed. Studies have found that the management of burn pain can be inadequate, and have recommended more aggressive treatment for pain resulting from burns. Burn pain varies greatly from patient to patient, substantial fluctuation over time, and can be unpredictable because of the complex interaction of physiologic, psychosocial, and premorbid behavior issues.

The average length of inpatient hospitalization for patients with burn injuries has declined during the last 10 years from 11 to 9 days. This represents, on average, just more than one day of hospitalization per 1% burn. As a result, patients with burn injuries are being discharged with multiple, long-term, physical, and psychological challenges, such as ongoing pain, intensive physical therapy, contractures, amputations, and psychological distress.

A severe burn not only affects the patients, but also may have a great impact on the lives of family members, who often experience psychological distress.





  • In 2013, nearly 69% of the burn patients were men. The mean age for all cases was 32 years old. Children under the age of 5 accounted for 20% of the cases, while patients ages 60 or older represented 12% of the cases.
  • Pain resulting from burn injuries can be challenging to treat because burns differ in their types and severity. There are three types of burns.
    • first-degree burns are considered mild compared to other burns. They result in pain and reddening of the epidermis (outer layer of the skin)
    • second-degree burns affect the epidermis and the dermis (lower layer of skin). They cause pain, redness, swelling, and blistering.
    • third-degree burns go through the dermis and affect deeper tissues. They result in white or blackened, charred skin that might be numb.
  • The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) states that burn pain management is deficient in elderly patients and in the vast population (about 95% of all burn injuries) treated on an outpatient basis.
  • IASP cites challenges surrounding the treatment of burn pain based on lack of research, the unique nature and characteristics of burns, and complexities surrounding secondary pain from wound care.
  • An international wound care survey on pain and trauma at wound dressing changes found that dressing removal was considered by practitioners to be the time of greatest perceived pain.
  • Not only is acute burn injury pain a source of immense suffering, but it has been linked to debilitating chronic pain and stress-related disorders.
  • Burn patients experience severe procedural pain and mild-to moderate background pain; one study also found that burn patients experience anxiety, fatigue, helplessness, anorexia, and acute stress disorder associated with background pain.
  • One study of 50 patients who had been admitted to the ICU with severe (third-degree) burns found that after one year, the level of health of all survivors was worse than before the injury. Problems reported include:
    • Difficulty with mobility (moderate 68.5%; extreme 0%)
    • Self-care (moderate 21%; extreme 36.9%)
    • Usual activities (moderate 68.5%; extreme 21%)
    • Pain/discomfort (moderate 68.5%; extreme 10.5%)
    • Anxiety/depression (moderate 36.9%; extreme 42.1%)


-Nearly a fourth of all burn injuries occur in children under the age of 16, the majority of whom are under the age of five.

-Scald injuries tend to be the most common type of burn injury under the age of five, accounting for over 65% of the cases, while fire injury tends to occur in older children, accounting for over 56% of the cases.

-Severe pain is a major consequence of burn injury, and it has been demonstrated that it is often inadequately treated. Anxiety and depression are confounding components in a major burn and can further decrease the pain threshold.


Burn Pain is generally classified into five clinical settings:

  1. Background: pain that is present while the patient is at rest, results from the thermal tissue injury itself, and is typically of low-moderate intensity and long duration (until the burn wound is healed).
  2. Procedural: a brief but intense pain generated by wound care (e.g. debridement, dressing change) or rehabilitation activities (physical and occupational therapies).
  3. Breakthrough: an unexpected spiking of pain levels that occurs when analgesic efforts are exceeded, either at rest or during procedures.
  4. Postoperative: a predictable and temporary (2-5 days) increase in pain complaints following burn excision and grafting, in large part because of the creation of new wounds in the processes of skin graft harvesting and autografting.
  5. Chronic: pain that lasts longer than six months or remains after all burn wounds and skin graft donor sites have healed, and it thus a challenge primarily in the outpatient setting.


Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation

American Burn Association

Burn Advocates Network

International Association for the Study of Pain

The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, Inc.

World Burn Foundation/Burn Survivors Online