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Spring 2018

Inquiry Magazine Archive


Pain Gains

Distinguished Professor edits special journal issue on pain 

A balloon animal and a cactus

Psychology Professor Robert J. Gatchel has focused international attention on a critical, yet overlooked issue: How chronic pain patients' irrational doubts about ever getting better can influence their reactions to pain and treatment outcomes.

Dr. Gatchel, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and the Nancy P. & John G. Penson Endowed Professor of Clinical Health Psychology, edited a special issue of the Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research on pain catastrophizing, which is the clinical term for irrational or maladaptive beliefs that pain will never get better. The issue brings together new studies from Asia, Europe, and North America and includes Gatchel's review of the literature.

"We are seeing that patients who tend to have these irrational beliefs are at greater risk of misusing opioid medicines and take longer to return to work when experiencing work disability for acute lower back pain," he says. "A more complete treatment model around this problem would promote changes in lifestyle habits and attitudes and strengthen social support systems alongside medical treatments. We need to take into consideration a series of treatment components that people have not considered before."

Each year, chronic pain costs the United States up to $635 billion in medical treatment and lost productivity. Scientific interest in the influence of pain catastrophizing on patient behavior and treatment success is growing. Gatchel hopes the special issue of the journal will help guide further research.

"New research on brain imaging and the genetics of catastrophizing are highlighting the increasing complexity of these beliefs," he says. "It all underlines the need for a more complete model for pain treatment."

More articles from this issue

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