Pain Disorder

Pain disorder is a somatoform disorder, in which a patient experiences chronic pain in one or more areas that is thought to be caused by psychological stress. Pain disorder is more commonly experienced by women, but can also affect men, and the onset age varies widely. It is characterized by acute or chronic pain with physical symptoms that have no explained origin, and are not the result of another physical illness or substance use. In order for pain disorder to be diagnosed, the symptoms must interfere with the life and well being of the affected person.

Common Symptoms of Pain Disorder

  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness regarding the pain management
  • Pain causes inactivity, passivity, or disables the affected person
  • Pain increases and requires medical assistance
  • Other problems arise such as insomnia and fatigue
  • Relationships, school and work are compromised due to pain interference
  • Depression and anxiety occur

Causes of Pain Disorder

While people with pain disorder might actually have an underlying medical condition, this condition won’t be able to fully explain or account for the severe pain experienced. People with pain disorder usually have a psychological problem like excessive stress that can cause the symptoms to manifest themselves physically, or increase existing pain. It’s important to realize that there is a strong connection between our minds and bodies, and that the pain caused by psychological factors is genuine and real, not made up or unworthy of anyone’s time. Nobody knows for sure what the causes of somatoform disorders like pain disorder are, but we know that psychological distress can cause physical pain. This can be related to anxiety, depression and other mental problems. Other theories suggest that people who have a history of physical or sexual abuse are more likely to have this disorder. However, not every person with somatoform pain disorder has a history of abuse.

Treatment for Pain Disorder

Because the physical affliction felt in pain disorder is real, it’s important to address both the physical pain and the psychological problems. First, a professional therapist should examine the psychological factors. Effective mental treatment includes cognitive-behavioral therapy, which allows the patient and the psychologist to understand where the pain is coming from and why it is affecting them. Through therapy, a patient is able to identify a cause and work towards an effective solution. Sometimes medications for other problems like anxiety or depression can be helpful; however, it’s important that the patient does not overuse pain medication, because it can cause other risk factors. Other forms of effective treatment include hypnotherapy, massage therapy, stress reducing exercises like yoga, and physical therapy.

What Should You Do?

If you are experiencing pain disorder, you should seek help from a psychologist as soon as you can. Most likely, you have already had many doctor appointments that didn’t quite fix your problem, or left you feeling unsatisfied. With the help of a psychologist, you can understand the source of the pain and come up with a better treatment plan. It is extremely important to keep a beneficial and supportive relationship between yourself, your doctor, and your psychologist as well. With the combined efforts of all involved, your pain is one step closer to being diminished.

View Resources

Wikipedia – Wikipedia listing of pain disorder, including some DSM-IV diagnostic criteria.

Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders – Helpful information about pain disorder, including diagnosis and treatments.

Medline Plus – Information about pain disorder, a somatoform disorder.

University of Maryland Medical Center – Information about pain disorder, including causes and symptoms.

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