Impact of psychological factors in the experience of pain

Phys Ther. 2011 May;91(5):700-11. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20100330. Epub 2011 Mar 30.


This article reviews the role of psychological factors in the development of persistent pain and disability, with a focus on how basic psychological processes have been incorporated into theoretical models that have implications for physical therapy. To this end, the key psychological factors associated with the experience of pain are summarized, and an overview of how they have been integrated into the major models of pain and disability in the scientific literature is presented. Pain has clear emotional and behavioral consequences that influence the development of persistent problems and the outcome of treatment. Yet, these psychological factors are not routinely assessed in physical therapy clinics, nor are they sufficiently utilized to enhance treatment. Based on a review of the scientific evidence, a set of 10 principles that have likely implications for clinical practice is offered. Because psychological processes have an influence on both the experience of pain and the treatment outcome, the integration of psychological principles into physical therapy treatment would seem to have potential to enhance outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attention
  • Cognition
  • Disabled Persons / psychology*
  • Disabled Persons / rehabilitation*
  • Emotions
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Low Back Pain / psychology
  • Low Back Pain / rehabilitation
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Psychophysiology