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Pain Disorder: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:07 What Is Pain Disorder?
  • 1:24 Diagnosis
  • 3:13 Causes and Treatment
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

When you think of something called pain disorder, it may sound like a purely physical disorder. Interestingly enough, it is actually classified as a mental disorder. Find out more in this lesson.

What Is Pain Disorder?

James and Eve have been in a relationship for five years. Three times a week since they have been together, they have gone for a walk in the park. But recently, there's been a problem. James has developed a pain in his back and can't walk in the park as often, which has put a strain on their relationship because Eve feels like he's neglecting her.

James may be suffering from pain disorder. Pain disorder is exactly what it sounds like - it is a psychological disorder that causes sufferers to experience pain. It is considered a mental disorder because psychological factors can aggravate the physical pain. These factors can influence the onset of pain, the severity of pain and also the maintenance of pain. Pain disorder used to be called both psychogenic pain disorder and somatoform pain disorder. It used to be called psychogenic pain disorder because it was believed that the pain was psychological and not physical.

Then doctors discovered that patients suffering from this disorder were in physical pain. It became known as somatoform pain disorder because the source of pain was physical but the source could not be pinpointed. Nowadays, the broader term 'pain disorder' is accepted.

Diagnosis

When patients complain of pain, doctors may order scans and tests to determine the source of pain. But what if they can't find the source of the pain? That's often when pain disorder is diagnosed.

Remember James? He has a pain in his back, but the doctors can't figure out why. As his psychologist, you think he might be suffering from a pain disorder. In order to diagnose him, you go down a checklist of symptoms.

  1. Significant pain. This one is pretty clear: James is suffering from pain in his back, and it's significant enough that he can't take his regular walk.
  2. The pain causes distress or impairment. Distress could be any type of emotional upset, like feeling sad or angry. Impairment is when a person's life, job or relationships are negatively influenced. In James' case, his pain is causing problems with his relationship with Eve, which is social impairment.
  3. Psychological problems significantly contribute to the pain. Whether the psychological problems cause or exacerbate the pain, they need to be a major force behind the pain. When you talk to James, you discover that the pain began when he lost his job a few months ago. His angst over losing his job marked the beginning of the pain.
  4. The pain is not faked or manufactured. James is not faking the pain, and he's not doing anything to intentionally cause it.
  5. It's not caused by another psychological disorder. There's no other explanation, physical or psychological, that could account for James' pain.

Now that you've gone down the checklist, you know that James has pain disorder.

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