Why does one person develop chronic, disabling pain and another doesn’t? Doctors aren’t completely sure, but it appears that a combination of psychological traits, socioeconomic status, and brain function may play a role.
A study published in August in PLOS Biology looked at how those factors combined to contribute to chronic pain in a group of patients with chronic back pain.
They found, as previous studies have, that people with lower incomes are more likely to suffer from chronic pain than those with higher incomes.
Through questionnaires, they also found that certain psychological traits were associated with chronic pain. For instance, a tendency to “catastrophize” about pain—that is to fear it will develop and to expect that to be a catastrophe—makes people more likely to suffer from chronic pain.
On the other hand, optimism and a capacity for “mindful” thinking seemed to help protect people from chronic pain.
Some of the study participants also underwent a resting functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging scan of their brains. The researchers could see differences in brain activity associated with the differences in psychological traits that they had uncovered through questionnaires.
“Our results support the existence of multiple brain systems contributing and modulating the chronic pain experience,” the authors wrote. “These systems involve different circuitry representing a different mixture of psychological factors and personality traits.”
“These findings suggest multiple dimensions of personality interacting to determine unique chronic pain experiences that each have their own biology,” the researchers wrote.
Chronic pain affects some 1 in 5 Americans and costs the U.S. an estimated $635 billion a year in lost productivity and medical costs. That’s why gaining a better understanding of factors that can influence it is so important.
At Southwest Spine and Pain, our medical providers work to continually stay up-to-date on the latest research on causes and effective treatments of pain.
If chronic pain is keeping you from doing the things you want, it’s time to schedule an appointment at Southwest Spine and Pain Center. With multiple locations across the state of Utah, the pain management specialists at Southwest Spine and Pain Center are dedicated to helping those who suffer from chronic pain live the life they want to. To schedule an appointment, visit our locations tab!
The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.