Toward a biopsychomotor conceptualization of pain: implications for research and intervention

Clin J Pain. 2008 May;24(4):281-90. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e318164bb15.


Objectives: Nearly 400 years ago, René Descartes proposed a model of pain perception that characterized pain as a purely physical phenomenon, devoid of psychologic influence. The characterization of pain as an exclusively sensory (or experiential) phenomenon continues to dominate current conceptualizations of pain.

Methods: This paper advances the view that the exclusive focus on pain sensation or experience as the essential feature of the pain system has given rise to conceptual frameworks that are incomplete and flawed. It is argued that individuals with pain differ from individuals without pain not only in how they "feel" but they differ in how they "behave."

Results: Arguments are put forward advocating for a biopsychomotor conceptualization of pain where pain behaviors are construed as integral components of the pain system. The biopsychomotor model proposes that at least 3 partially independent behavioral subsystems are integral components of pain. These include communicative pain behaviors, protective pain behaviors, and social response behaviors. Evidence is reviewed suggesting that different dimensions of pain behavior are functionally distinct, and questions are raised about the nature of motor programs responsible for the elicitation and maintenance of different forms of pain behavior.

Discussion: Clinical and theoretical implications of a biopsychomotor conceptualization of pain are discussed.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Concept Formation*
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Pain / history
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Management*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Social Behavior