pain disorder as related to stress


Pain disorder is one of several somatoform disorders described in the revised, fourth edition of the mental health professional's handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as DSM-IV-TR). The term "somatoform" means that symptoms are physical but are not entirely understood as a consequence of a general medical condition or as a direct effects of a substance, such as a drug. Pain in one or more anatomical sites is the predominant complaint and is severe enough to require medical or therapeutic intervention . Pain disorder is classified as a mental disorder because psychological factors play an important role in the onset, severity, worsening, or maintenance of pain.

. Sometimes pain disorder is referred to as somatization, but this is an imprecise term and is easily confused with somatization disorder .


When a patient's primary complaint is the experience of pain and when impairment at home, work, or school causes significant distress, a diagnosis of pain disorder may be warranted. The diagnosis is further differentiated by subtype; subtype is assigned depending on whether or not pain primarily is accounted for by psychological factors or in combination with a general medical condition, and whether the pain is acute (less than six months) or chronic (six months or more). The classification of pain states is important since the effectiveness of treatment depends on the aptness of the diagnosis of pain disorder and its type.

Causes and symptoms


Common sites of pain include the back (especially lower back), the head, abdomen, and chest. Causes of pain vary depending on the site; however, in pain disorder, the severity or duration of pain or the degree of associated disability is unexplained by observed medical or psychological problems.

The prevailing biopsychosocial model of mental disorders suggests that multiple causes of varying kinds may explain pain disorder, especially when the pain is chronic. There are four domains of interest:

The underlying organic problem or medical condition, if there is one. For example, fibromyalgia (a pain syndrome involving fibromuscular tissue), skeletal damage, pathology of an internal organ, migraine headache, and peptic ulcer all have characteristic patterns of pain and a particular set of causes.

The experience of pain. The severity, duration, and pattern of pain are important determinants of distress. Uncontrolled or inadequately managed pain is a significant stressor.

Functional impairment and disability. Pain is exacerbated by loss of meaningful activities or social relationships. Disruption or loss may lead to isolation and resentment or anger, which further increases pain.

Emotional distress. Depression and anxiety are the most common correlates of pain, especially when the person suffering feels that the pain is unmanageable, or that the future only holds more severe pain and more losses.


Symptoms vary depending on the site of pain and are treated medically. However, there are common symptoms associated with pain disorder regardless of the site:

         negative or distorted cognition, such as feeling helpless or hopeless with respect to pain and its management

         inactivity, passivity, and/or disability

         increased pain requiring clinical intervention

         insomnia and fatigue

         disrupted social relationships at home, work, or school

         depression and/or anxiety


Depending on whether the pain is acute or chronic, management may involve one or more of the following: pharmacological treatment (medication); psychotherapy (individual or group); family, behavioral, physical, hypnosis, and/or occupational therapy. If the pain is acute, the primary goal is to relieve the pain. Customary agents are acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); if opioid analgesics are prescribed, they often are combined with NSAIDs so that the dosage of opioids may be reduced. Psychotherapy is less important for the treatment of acute pain as compared to chronic pain disorder. In comparison, treatment of chronic pain disorder usually requires some sort of psychotherapy in combination with medication.


Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) reduce pain, improve sleep, and strengthen the effects of opioids (such as codeine and oxycodone), as well as moderate depression. Relief of pain may occur in a few days while lessening of depression may take several weeks. Usually, TCAs for pain are prescribed at doses 33% to 50% lower than when prescribed for depression. TCAs are particularly effective for neuropathic pain, headache, facial pain, fibromyalgia, and arthritis.


Treatment of sleep dysfunction

Pain and depression diminish the restorative quality of sleep. When the cycle of pain, depression, insomnia, and fatigue is established, it tends to be self-perpetuating. Treatment may include antidepressants, relaxation training, and education regarding good sleep hygiene.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Many people who suffer chronic pain experience isolation, distress, frustration, and a loss of confidence regarding their ability to cope; subsequently, they may adopt a passive, helpless style of problem solving. The goal of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is to restore a sense of self-efficacy by educating patients about the pain-and-tension cycle, by teaching them how to actively manage pain and distress, and by informing them about the therapeutic effects of their medications. CBT is time-limited, structured, and goal-oriented.

Some tension-reducing techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, visual imagery, hypnosis, and biofeedback . Pain diaries are useful for describing daily patterns of pain and for helping the patient identify activities, emotions, and thoughts that alleviate or worsen pain. Diaries also are useful in evaluating the effectiveness of medication. Patients may be taught pacing techniques or scheduling strategies to restore and maintain meaningful activities.

The cognitive aspect of CBT is based on cognitive-social learning theory. The focus is on helping the patient to restructure his or her ideas about the nature of pain and the possibility of effective self-management. In particular, the patient is taught to identify and then modify negative or distorted thought patterns of helplessness and hopelessness.

Operant conditioning

The principles of operant conditioning are taught to the patient and family members so that activity and non-pain behaviors are reinforced or encouraged. The goal is to eliminate pain behaviors, such as passivity, inactivity, and over-reliance on medication.

Other Treatments

Other treatments effective in the management of pain include acupuncture , transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), trigger point injections, massage, nerve blocks, surgical ablation (removal of a part or pathway), meditation , exercise, yoga , music and art therapy.


The prognosis for total remission of symptoms is good for acute pain disorder and not as promising for chronic pain disorder. The typical pattern for chronic pain entails occasional flare-ups alternating with periods of low to moderate pain. The prognosis for remission of symptoms is better when patients are able to continue working; conversely, unemployment and the attendant isolation, resentment, and inactivity are correlates of a continuing pain disorder. Additionally, if reinforcement of pain behavior is in place (for example, financial compensation for continuing disability, an overly solicitous spouse, abuse of addictive drugs), remission is less likely.

The results of outcome studies comparing pain disorder treatments point to cognitive-behavioral therapy in conjunction with antidepressants as the most continually effective regimen. However, people in chronic pain may respond better to other treatments and it is in keeping with the goal of active self-management for the patient and health professional(s) to find an individualized mix of effective coping strategies.

Research rapport

Family morbidity in chronic pain patients could indicate genetic vulnerability to depressive spectrum disorders or presence of pain behaviour models. Assessment of family morbidity is an area of chronic pain research which has been neglected. In the present study, the frequency and nature of the family psychiatric morbidity of 203 consecutive chronic pain patients has been assessed and compared with that of 140 non-pain psychiatric patients. 30% of chronic pain patients and 33.6% of non-pain psychiatric patients had family psychiatric morbidity. The commonest illness in families of pain patients were found to be alcoholism, psychosomatic disorders and chronic pain. Schizophrenia and affective disorders were reported significantly more often in families of non-pain patients. 53% of psychogenic pain disorder patients had a positive family morbidity. Alcoholism among male relatives, and chronic pain and hypertension more often among female relatives, was another significant observation. No significant difference was found between chronic pain patients with and without family morbidity with regard to socio-demographic variables and clinical diagnosis.