Pain Catastrophizing: How Thinking Can Make it So

Illuminating the Topic, Promoting Future Research on Pain Treatment Outcomes

The impact of catastrophizing behavior on treatment outcomes for patients with chronic pain has been considered at some length in the PAINWeek curriculum. Robert Gatchel, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington, has edited one of the first special issues devoted to the topic in the current edition of the Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research. In his introduction to the journal edition Dr. Gatchel frames the pain catastrophizing construct as “…an exaggerated negative orientation toward actual or anticipated pain experience.” These irrational and maladaptive beliefs can put patients at greater risk for opioid abuse, and impede their progress toward regaining functionality and quality of life, he notes. The edition encompasses a review of recent literature, and a summation of new studies undertaken in Asia, Europe, and North America.

With respect to the role of the construct of pain catastrophizing in pain therapy, Dr. Gatchel asserts that “…additional clinical research is still needed to more fully address issues such as: can it be used to help tailor pain interventions to the specific needs of patients?; relatedly, how does it interact with other emotional (anxiety, depression, etc) and functional (physical deconditioning, disability, limitations in activities of daily living, etc) factors often seen in chronic pain patients?” This work could help promote the development of a more complete treatment model that addresses lifestyle changes and social support systems in addition to medical approaches, he adds.

Read a press release about the special issue on pain catastrophizing.

Dr. Gatchel’s introduction to the special issue may be read here.


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