NIH Research Festival
Pain catastrophizing (the cognitive-emotional tendency to ruminate about pain, magnify pain, and feel helplessness in response to pain) enhances pain and pain-related outcomes. However, the mechanisms by which catastrophizing modulates pain are poorly understood. Evidence suggests that catastrophizing modulates supraspinal processing of pain, but does not modulate spinal nociception (as assessed by nociceptive flexion reflex [NFR]). Unfortunately, these studies have all been cross-sectional and relied on between-subject correlations, which limit conclusions about causation. To address this limitation, the present study experimentally reduced catastrophizing to determine whether it modulates spinal nociception (NFR). Healthy pain-free participants (N=113) were randomly assigned to a brief 30-minute catastrophizing reduction manipulation or a control group that received pain education. Before and after manipulations, 2 types of painful stimuli were delivered to elicit (1) NFR (single trains of stimuli) and (2) temporal summation of NFR (3 stimulations at 2 Hz). After each set of stimuli, participants were asked to report their pain intensity and unpleasantness, as well as their situation-specific catastrophizing. Manipulation checks verified that catastrophizing was effectively reduced. Furthermore, pain intensity and unpleasantness to both stimulation types were reduced by the catastrophizing manipulation, effects that were mediated by catastrophizing. Although NFRs were not affected by the catastrophizing manipulation, temporal summation of NFR was reduced. However, this effect was not mediated by catastrophizing. These results indicate that reductions in catastrophizing lead to reductions in pain perception but do not modulate spinal nociception and provides further evidence that catastrophizing modulates pain at the supraspinal, not the spinal, level.
Scientific Focus Area: Social and Behavioral Sciences
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