Psychological Influences on Pain Perception

Psychological Influences on Pain Perception

How does psychology affect pain?

How a person perceives pain, and how doctors treat it, depends upon many psychosocial factors?

What is Pain Perception?

Pain perception refers to how individuals experience and interpret pain sensations. It is a complex process that involves both psychological and physiological factors. Psychological factors can include past experiences, beliefs, and expectations. Physiological factors can include the intensity of the pain signal, the type of pain, and individual differences in pain threshold and tolerance.

Psychological Influences on Pain Perception

Among the psychological influences on pain perception include mood, gender, age, social support, expectations, and perceptions of control.

Pain is a complex process, influenced by so many different variables. And also, pain is the primary reason for seeking medical support. How a person perceives pain, and how doctors treat it, depends upon many psychosocial factors. Among the psychosocial factors that influence pain include mood, gender, age, social support, expectations, and also, perceptions of control.

What Influences Pain Perception?

It’s well established that psychological factors influence pain perception. For instance, people who are anxious or depressed tend to report more pain than those who are not. Stress can also increase pain perception. This is likely because stress increases the activity of the body’s stress response system, which can in turn make pain more intense.

Psychological Distress Associated With Acute Pain – A Study

Psychological factors influence a person’s perception of acute to chronic pain. Personality characteristics, such as stress tolerance and anxiety level, can also influence the perception of pain resulting in psychological distress associated with acute pain. T. W. Rodger and his research team conducted a study on this subject. They aimed to understand if alexithymia and anxiety sensitivity interact with psychological distress. They studied how an early stage of recovery from an orthopaedic injury accentuates the perception of pain intensity and also potentially mediates the development of chronic pain disorder.

Schematic of cortical areas involved with pain processing and fMRI


According to their study, 62 patients who had recently suffered from orthopaedic injury completed the British Pain Society Pain Rating Scale and also the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, which measures alexithymia and anxiety sensitivity. Pain intensity correlated with each of the psychological measures, however, regression analysis found that only depression, in combination with anxiety sensitivity, contributed to a significant amount of the variance in pain scores.

Does early screening help?

Early screening just after orthopaedic injury could identify those vulnerable to developing persisting pain disorders. Rodger (2011) believes it could lead to an effective early intervention using psychological methods of pain management. As a result, it will reduce the risk of acute pain which may evolve into a chronic pain disorder.

What is psychosomatic pain?

Psychosomatic pain is physical pain that is caused or worsened by psychological factors. It can be caused by stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. Psychosomatic pain can also be caused by beliefs or attitudes about pain. For example, if someone believes that pain is always bad and should be avoided, they may be more likely to experience psychosomatic pain. Treatment for psychosomatic pain often includes both psychological and medical interventions.

What are some psychological factors in pain management?

There are many psychological factors that influence pain perception and management. One important factor is the individual’s beliefs and attitudes about pain. Those who believe that pain is a normal and necessary part of life are more likely to be tolerant of it and have better pain management skills. Another important factor is stress. Stress can increase the perception of pain and make it more difficult to cope with. This is why relaxation and stress-reduction techniques are often used in pain management. Cognitive factors, such as distraction and reframing, can also play a role in pain perception and management. Distraction can help to take the focus off of the pain, while reframing can help to change the way the pain is perceived (for example, from something negative to something more neutral or even positive).

Check the following articles to read more about Psychological Influences on Pain Perception :
  1. Weisse. C (1997), Psychological influences on pain perception and non-pharmacologic approaches to the treatment of pain, (URL)
  2. Rodger. W, Maclean. L, Pallister. I, Psychological factors contributing to perceptions of pain intensity after acute orthopaedic injury (URL)
  3. Borsook D, Moulton EA, Schmidt KF, Becerra LR. / CC BY (URL)
  4. (URL)
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