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Perspectives

Personality characteristics and chronic pain: why some people feel pain worse than others

Salam Hussain

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Abstract

Several personality characteristics have particular effects on perception of pain, propensity to progress into chronic pain and engagement in treatment protocols. Assessment of temperament and personality dimensions can provide additional information to help guide patients with pain disorders in their recovery from their complex problems.

Key Points

  • A person’s brain function and personality characteristics have particular effects on perception of pain, propensity to progress to chronic pain and engagement in treatment protocols. Pain itself also impacts on aspects of personality traits, exacerbating them during pain episodes.
  • At the level of brain function, individuals who seek less risk and are more fearful of pain are more likely to experience more pain, perhaps due to the increased activation of the amygdala.
  • Personality characteristics such as anxiety (neuroticism), harm-avoidance, catastrophising and hypochondriasis are associated with the presence of chronic pain.
  • The traits of agreeableness and egoresiliency are associated with effective self-regulation of pain.
  • Personality assessment should be part of the initial assessment of a patient presenting with a pain disorder. This information can help clinicians guide these patients in their recovery journey from their complex problems.

    Picture credit: © PlainPicture/Markus Brehm/Diomedia.com. Model used for illustrative purposes only.

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