I have read improving together with terms like pain multiple times, and never was confident this means the pain is reduced so its an improvement of pain in a sense of suffering.

Or it might mean the pain is improved in a sense of making it more intense.

What obvious would result in opposite meanings.

So which of the cases it is expected to be? Or is this in itself depending on context?

  • 2
    While I think most people will interpret it as lessening the suffering from pain, it may be better to say reducing pain or alleviating pain. Most instances of "improving pain" are similar to "improving pain management" or "improving pain outcomes".
    – ColleenV
    Mar 16, 2016 at 15:32

1 Answer 1


This is a tricky one. Going by bare definitions according to the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, improve means

to (​cause something to) get ​better

while pain means

a ​feeling of ​physical ​suffering ​caused by ​injury or ​illness

Taken literally, if you described the suffering itself getting better, rather than the feeling associated with it, that would mean the actual pain is getting worse because from the perspective of the pain, hurting you more is a good thing (I didn't foresee myself anthropomorphising pain today, but there you go).

However, most people would interpret "my pain has improved" as meaning that you're feeling less pain than you were, as very few people outside the realm of sociopaths would consider you feeling more pain as an improvement.

The bottom line is that it's fine to use this construction, but only because nobody is cruel enough to apply the literal meaning of the words. :P

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    Thats the point, I have a tendency to take things literal. And therefor when I read improving pain I understood it as the pain itself icnreased. But sometimes it made me ask "Do they really want to express that?" and soemtimes it simply made no sense. So the conclusion is, my understanding was right, but anyway that one simply isn't used in a literal way?
    – Zaibis
    Mar 16, 2016 at 11:04
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    @Wyatt That's the problem with English: so many different interpretations of the same sequence of words. Mar 16, 2016 at 11:22
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    @T.J.L. It depends on the perspective from which you're considering "improvement"; it doesn't always mean "make something better for the person experiencing it", which is why I pointed out that if you're looking at it from the pain's point of view, improving would be making the pain worse. ;) Mar 16, 2016 at 15:19
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    @JohnClifford I don't think pain is entitled to a point of view. :)
    – T.J.L.
    Mar 16, 2016 at 15:20
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    @T.J.L. Well that's just paincist. Mar 16, 2016 at 15:21

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