Health anxiety moderates the effects of distraction versus attention to pain

Behav Res Ther. 2000 May;38(5):425-38. doi: 10.1016/s0005-7967(99)00044-3.


Little is known about the relationship between health anxiety and chronic pain. The present study explored whether individual differences in health anxiety would influence the response of chronic pain patients to physical therapy. Furthermore, the interaction of health anxiety with coping strategy usage (distraction versus attention) was studied. Participants were 81 chronic pain patients who were interviewed and completed measures of pain, anxiety and cognition following an active physiotherapy session in which they either: (1) attended to physical sensations; (2) distracted from physical sensations or (3) completed the session as usual. Health anxious, compared to non-health anxious, individuals worried more about their health and injury during the session and attended to and catastrophically misinterpreted sensations more frequently. A complex interaction between health anxiety and coping strategy emerged. Among health anxious patients, attention to sensations resulted in lower anxiety and pain than did distraction. It appears as though attention had a short-term anxiety reducing effect for health anxious patients. Among non-health anxious patients, attention resulted in greater worry about health than distraction. Clinical and theoretical implications are discussed.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Attention*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypochondriasis / psychology*
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain / rehabilitation
  • Pain Measurement
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / psychology
  • Sick Role