Does in vivo catastrophizing engage descending modulation of spinal nociception?

J Pain. 2007 Apr;8(4):325-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2006.10.003. Epub 2006 Nov 29.


Prior research has found that pain catastrophizing measured before pain testing is not correlated with the nociceptive flexion reflex (NFR) threshold (a measure of spinal nociception), suggesting that catastrophizing does not alter pain through descending modulatory mechanisms. However, recent evidence suggests that in vivo catastrophizing (measured during or after pain testing) is a better predictor of pain outcomes. In the present study, NFR threshold and pain sensation ratings were assessed in 78 healthy participants by delivering electric stimulations to the sural nerve. After pain testing, participants were asked to rate their affective reaction (displeasure, arousal) to electric stimuli and to report on their pain catastrophizing. Hierarchical regression analyses controlling for participant sex, pre-experiment affect, depressive symptoms, and self-efficacy were used to predict pain-related outcomes (NFR threshold, pain sensation, displeasure ratings, arousal ratings) from in vivo catastrophizing scores. Results indicated that in vivo catastrophizing was related to pain sensation but not to NFR thresholds or arousal reactions. The relation between in vivo catastrophizing and displeasure ratings was not significant after other variables were controlled. These data support prior research suggesting that catastrophizing does not alter pain by engaging descending modulatory mechanisms.

Perspective: Pain catastrophizing is an important psychological predictor of pain and pain-related functioning. The present study confirms prior reports suggesting that catastrophizing does not work by engaging mechanisms that alter pain transmission in the spinal cord before the signal travels to the brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Arousal / drug effects
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Depression / psychology
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nociceptors / drug effects
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement / drug effects
  • Pain Threshold / drug effects
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Reflex / drug effects
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology*