What does OPQRST stand for in first aid?

OPQRST is an mnemonic used by first aiders and healthcare professionals to assess a patient’s pain. Many medical emergencies result in pain so being able to take an accurate pain history is important for first aiders and first responders.OPQRST pain history

It stands for:

  • Onset
  • Provocation
  • Quality
  • Radiation
  • Severity
  • Timing

We’ll go through each of these components in turn.


The onset of pain can provide important clues to its origin. What was the casualty doing when the pain started? Did the pain come on gradually or suddenly? 


What makes the pain worse and what relieves it – may be rest, position or medication.


Ask the casualty to describe the pain in their own words – is it sharp, dull, constant, coming and going?

Don’t put words into the casualty’s mouth – it is far better to ask them open questions such as “can you tell me a bit more about the pain?” rather than asking direct questions such as “is it sharp? is it like an ache?”.


Does the pain spread to any other regions of the body?


How severe is the pain? Use a verbal pain score to rate the pain. For adults the start point is 0 i.e no pain and end point is 10 –worst pain imaginable.

A variety of other pain rating scales exist for children and adults who may be unable to understand a verbal rating scale. 


How long has the casualty had the pain? Is it getting worse/better/staying the same over time? Try and picture a graph of the pain over time. 


John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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