A randomized-controlled trial of using a book of metaphors to reconceptualize pain and decrease catastrophizing in people with chronic pain

Clin J Pain. 2013 Jan;29(1):20-5. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e3182465cf7.


Objectives: Reconceptualization of pain and reduction of pain-related catastrophizing are primary objectives in chronic pain rehabilitation. Teaching people about the underlying biology of pain has been shown to facilitate these objectives. The objective of this study was to investigate whether written metaphor and story can be used to increase knowledge of the biology of pain and reduce pain-related catastrophizing.

Methods: In this randomized single-blind partial cross-over controlled trial, 79 people with chronic pain received either a booklet of metaphors and stories conveying key pain biology concepts or a booklet containing advice on how to manage chronic pain according to established cognitive-behavioral principles. The primary outcome variables, pain biology knowledge and catastrophizing, were measured before randomization, at 3 weeks and at 3 months, at which time the control group was crossed over to receive the metaphors and stories booklet. Pain and disability were secondary outcome variables.

Results: The Metaphors group showed larger changes in both variables (time × group interactions: P < 0.01, effect size Cohen d = 0.7 for catastrophizing and 1.7 for pain biology knowledge). Gains were maintained for at least 3 months. Changes were replicated in the Advice group when crossed over. There was no change in pain or self-reported disability in either group.

Discussion: We conclude that providing educational material through metaphor and story can assist patients to reconceptualize pain and reduce catastrophizing. Metaphor and story could be used as a precurser to other interventions that target functional capacity.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Catastrophization / diagnosis
  • Catastrophization / etiology*
  • Catastrophization / rehabilitation*
  • Chronic Pain / complications
  • Chronic Pain / diagnosis
  • Chronic Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metaphor*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pamphlets*
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult