What Happens in the Brain with Pain Catastrophizing?

Pain Catastrophizing is a ‘tendency to magnify and ruminate about pain and having a helpless attitude toward actual or anticipated pain.’ Studies show that people who catastrophize about their pain have higher pain levels. This occurs through mechanisms in the brain. This review study below from 2019 highlights some of the brain areas that are implicated with pain catastrophizing. As part of the healing process, we need to change the way people think about their pain and move from a helpless, negative mental state to an empowered healthy one that sends the right signals for healing.

‘The results of our review show a connection between pain catastrophizing and brain areas tightly connected to pain perception (including the somatosensory cortices, anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex and thalamus) and/or modulation (eg, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). Our results also highlight that these processes – in relation to pain catastrophizing – are more pronounced in chronic pain patients, suggesting that structural and functional brain alterations (and perhaps mechanisms) related to pain catastrophizing may depend on prior and/or relatively stable/constant pain experience.’