Pain and the context

Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2014 Jun;10(6):348-55. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2014.17. Epub 2014 Feb 25.


Pain is a sensory and emotional experience that is substantially modulated by psychological, social and contextual factors. Research now indicates that the influence of these factors is even more powerful than expected and involves the therapeutic response to analgesic drugs as well as the pain experience itself, which in some circumstances can even be a form of reward. Different experimental approaches and models, both in the laboratory and in the clinical setting, have been used to better characterize and understand the complex neurobiology of pain modulation. These approaches include placebo analgesia, nocebo hyperalgesia, hidden administration of analgesics, and the manipulation of the pain-reward relationship. Overall, these studies show that different neurochemical systems are activated in different positive and negative contexts. Moreover, pain can activate reward mechanisms when experienced within contexts that have special positive meaning. Because routine medical practice usually takes place in contexts that use different rituals, these neurobiological insights might have profound clinical implications.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / physiopathology
  • Hyperalgesia / psychology
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Placebo Effect


  • Analgesics