Psychological Characteristics of Chronic Pain: a Review of Current Evidence and Assessment Tools to Enhance Treatment

Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2018 Mar 14;22(3):22. doi: 10.1007/s11916-018-0663-y.


Purpose of review: The complicated nature of chronic pain involves an interplay between psychological and physical factors, often resulting in increased emotional distress and reduced quality of life. This review is designed to help the medical practitioner who is working with chronic pain patients to be aware of psychological assessment techniques that can add to comprehensive patient understanding and more effectively guide treatment. Enhanced ability to assess and understand the emotional life of the chronic pain patient provides a basis for intervening and treating more successfully.

Recent findings: There are a broad range of assessment techniques, some of which require a background in psychology and some that do not, that can identify psychological differences in chronic pain patients and serve to guide intervention strategies. Chronic pain is often comorbid with depression, anxiety, catastrophizing, and various ineffective coping strategies. Some patients, however, have demonstrated more adaptive and effective strategies for cognitively and behaviorally coping with pain and normalizing their lives. Proper assessment enables the individualization of treatment to overcome and/or build upon each patient's psychological frame of mind to maximize the potential for effective functioning. The use of standardized and documented psychological assessment techniques can lead to a better understanding of chronic pain patients and contribute in ways that can enhance response to medical treatment and improve quality of life. It is recommended that certain psychological tools be included to supplement the medical assessment of patients who have chronic pain. A basic assessment can include a short psychological-based clinical interview along with brief measures of depression, anxiety, and coping strategies. It is also recommended that the pain physician have access to professional psychological practitioners as a resource for more complicated assessments and psychological intervention services.

Keywords: Anxiety; Catastrophizing; Cognitive-behavioral therapy; Coping strategies; Depression; Psychological assessment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Pain Management / methods*