Fear of pain as a prognostic factor in chronic pain: conceptual models, assessment, and treatment implications

Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2010 Apr;14(2):88-95. doi: 10.1007/s11916-010-0094-x.


Chronic pain is a pervasive health care issue affecting over 50 million Americans and costing more than $100 billion dollars annually in lost productivity and health care costs. As a financially and emotionally taxing condition, the families and friends of people with chronic pain, as well as society at large, are affected. Current theory supports the role of biological, psychological, and environmental factors in the etiology, exacerbation, and maintenance of chronic pain. Recently, the specific role of pain-related fear in pain experience has received increasing attention. This article summarizes current understanding of the role of pain-related fear in the onset of acute pain incidents, the transition of acute pain to chronic, and the pain severity and disability of patients with ongoing chronic pain conditions. Treatments demonstrated to reduce pain-related fear are presented, evidence demonstrating their efficacy at reducing disability and pain severity are summarized, and recent criticisms of the fear-avoidance model and future directions are considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Chronic Disease
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors
  • Somatoform Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Somatoform Disorders* / psychology
  • Somatoform Disorders* / therapy