Objective: Pain is among the most frequently reported, bothersome, and disabling symptoms described by patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other musculoskeletal conditions. This review describes a growing body of literature relating catastrophizing, a set of cognitive and emotional processes encompassing magnification of pain-related stimuli, feelings of helplessness, and a generally pessimistic orientation, to the experience of pain and pain-related sequelae across several rheumatic diseases.
Methods: We reviewed published articles in which pain-related catastrophizing was assessed in the context of one or more rheumatic conditions. Because much of the available information on catastrophizing is derived from the more general chronic pain literature, seminal studies in other disease states were also considered.
Results: Catastrophizing is positively related, in both cross-sectional and prospective studies across different musculoskeletal conditions, to the reported severity of pain, affective distress, muscle and joint tenderness, pain-related disability, poor outcomes of pain treatment, and, potentially, to inflammatory disease activity. Moreover, these associations generally persist after controlling for symptoms of depression. There appear to be multiple mechanisms by which catastrophizing exerts its harmful effects, from maladaptive influences on the social environment to direct amplification of the central nervous system's processing of pain.
Conclusion: Catastrophizing is a critically important variable in understanding the experience of pain in rheumatologic disorders as well as other chronic pain conditions. Pain-related catastrophizing may be an important target for both psychosocial and pharmacologic treatment of pain.