Chronic pain and psychopathology: research findings and theoretical considerations

Psychosom Med. 2002 Sep-Oct;64(5):773-86. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000024232.11538.54.


Objective: Numerous studies have documented a strong association between chronic pain and psychopathology. Previous research has shown that chronic pain is most often associated with depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, substance use disorders, and personality disorders. The primary objective of this review article is to describe the nature of the relationship between chronic pain and each of these types of psychopathology. In addition, this article will explore how each of these disorders are expressed within the context of chronic pain, with a consideration of both diagnostic and treatment issues.

Methods: Medline and PsychLit searches of the chronic pain/psychopathology literature from 1980 through 2000 were conducted using the keywords chronic pain, psychopathology, psychiatric disorders, and psychological disorders.

Results: The relationship between chronic pain and psychopathology has generated substantial empirical and theoretical interest, with depressive disorders receiving much of the attention.

Conclusions: Although no single theoretical model can fully explain the causal relationship between chronic pain and psychopathology, a diathesis-stress model is emerging as the dominant overarching theoretical perspective. In this model, diatheses are conceptualized as preexisting, semidormant characteristics of the individual before the onset of chronic pain that are then activated and exacerbated by the stress of this chronic condition, eventually resulting in diagnosable psychopathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / etiology
  • Humans
  • MMPI
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis
  • Personality Disorders / etiology
  • Personality Inventory
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis
  • Somatoform Disorders / etiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology