Pain catastrophizing influences the use and the effectiveness of distraction in schoolchildren

Eur J Pain. 2012 Feb;16(2):256-67. doi: 10.1016/j.ejpain.2011.06.015.


Distraction is an intuitive way of coping with pain and is often used in children's pain treatment programs. However, empirical evidence concerning the effectiveness of distraction is equivocal. One potential explanation might be that distraction does not work for everyone in every situation. In the current series of studies, we examined the role of pain catastrophizing as an influencing factor of distraction effectiveness. In the first study, we investigated the use of pain coping strategies (including distraction) in schoolchildren (N = 828, aged 8-18 years) by means of a questionnaire. Results indicated that children with higher levels of pain catastrophizing reported using less distraction strategies in daily life than children with lower levels of pain catastrophizing. In the second study, a subsample (N = 81, aged 9-18 years) performed a painful cold pressor task (CPT) (12 °C). Participants were randomly assigned to a distraction group, in which an attention-demanding tone-detection task was performed during the CPT, or a control group, in which no distraction task was performed. Results showed that participants in the distraction group were engaged in the distraction task, and reported to have paid less attention to pain than participants in the control group. However, distraction was ineffective in reducing cold pressor pain, and even intensified the pain experience in high catastrophizing children. Caution may be warranted in using distraction as a 'one size fits all' method, especially in high catastrophizing children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Analgesia / psychology*
  • Catastrophization / physiopathology
  • Catastrophization / psychology*
  • Child
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology
  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Random Allocation