Do patient and physician expectations predict response to pain-relieving procedures?

Clin J Pain. 1997 Dec;13(4):348-51. doi: 10.1097/00002508-199712000-00013.


Objective: To evaluate the relationships between patient and physician pretreatment expectations of pain relief and subsequent pain relief reported by chronic pain patients immediately after treatment.

Design: Prospective study of consecutive patients undergoing a procedure in a pain clinic for treatment of chronic pain. Patients rated their current pain level and their expectation of pain relief immediately prior to undergoing a procedure (e.g., intravenous drug infusion, nerve block) for the treatment of chronic pain. Simultaneously and independently, the treating physician completed a similar questionnaire. At completion of the procedure, patients rated their current pain level and degree of pain relief.

Setting: University of Washington Multidisciplinary Pain Center procedure suite.

Patients: Forty-six consecutive chronic pain patients.

Intervention: Intravenous drug infusions and nerve blocks.

Outcome measures: Current pain and pain relief ratings.

Results: Patients' pain relief expectation ratings were not correlated significantly with their postprocedure pain relief ratings or pre-post procedure changes in pain ratings. However, a statistically significant correlation was found between physician expectations of pain relief and patient pain relief ratings and patient pre-post procedure changes in pain.

Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that physicians are better predictors than are patients of patients responses to these procedures and/or that physicians may somehow subtly communicate their expectations to patients during the procedure, and these expectations then influence patient response. Patient pretreatment expectations may not always play a significant role in nonspecific treatment effects.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Block
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Clinics
  • Pain Management*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Patients / psychology
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Prospective Studies