The role of pain catastrophizing in experimental pain perception

Pain Pract. 2014 Mar;14(3):E136-45. doi: 10.1111/papr.12150. Epub 2013 Nov 13.


Background: Pain is a subjective experience influenced by multiple factors, and tremendous variety within individuals is present. To evaluate emotional state of pain, catastrophizing score can be used. This study investigated pain catastrophizing ratings in association with experimental pain perception.

Method: Experimental pain was induced using thermal heat and cold stimulation of skin, mechanical stimulation of muscle and bone, and thermal, mechanical, and electrical stimulation of the gastrointestinal tract in healthy participants (N = 41). Prior to experimental sessions, a pain catastrophizing questionnaire was filled out by each participant.

Results: Based on the median catastophizing score, participants were divided into two groups: noncatastrophizers and low-catastrophizers. No significant difference was found between low-catastrophizers and noncatastrophizers in thermal heat stimulation of skin, mechanical stimulation of muscle and bone, and rectal electrical stimulation (All P > 0.05). Low-catastrophizers were more sensitive to visceral thermal stimulation (4.7%, P = 0.02) and visceral mechanical stimulation (29.7%, P = 0.03). For participants that completed the 120 seconds ice water stimulation, noncatastrophizers reported 13.8% less pain than low-catastrophizers (P = 0.02). A positive correlation between PCS score and pain perception on cold pressor test was found (r = 0.4, P = 0.02). By extrapolating data, further analysis of the total group was performed and no differences (both P > 0.05) were observed.

Conclusion: Even small increments in pain catastrophizing score can influence pain perception to deep and tonic stimulations. Catatrophizing may partly explain the variability found in experimental pain studies.

Keywords: catastrophizing; cold pressor test; human experimental models; pain; visceral mechanical stimulation; visceral thermal stimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Catastrophization / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Perception / physiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult