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Pain. 1998 Nov;78(2):123-9.

The meaning of pain: cancer patients' rating and recall of pain intensity and affect.

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Neurobiology and Anesthesiology Branch, National Institute of Dental Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.


The present study investigated the influence of an increase in present pain intensity on the rating and recall of the intensity and affective dimensions of clinical pain. Thirty-two cancer patients who reported that movement caused or exacerbated their pain rated their present pain intensity and affect before and after a session of physical therapy. Subjects also rated their usual, highest and lowest pain intensity and pain affect for the previous 3 days, and were randomly assigned to make these ratings either before or after the physical therapy session. Physical therapy increased the intensity (P < 0.01) but not the unpleasantness of the pain (P > 0.05), thus demonstrating a dissociation between pain intensity and pain affect. Beliefs about pain etiology also influenced post-therapy pain ratings. Subjects (N = 11) who believed that their pain was due to cancer, rated their post-therapy pain intensity and pain affect significantly higher than those subjects (N = 21) who did not believe their pain was due to cancer (both P < 0.05). For all subjects, recall of past pain intensity and affect was positively correlated with present levels of pain intensity and pain affect (P < 0.01). Thus, recall was assimilated to present pain levels. The results demonstrate the importance of rating both the intensity and affective dimensions of pain, and suggest that the significance of clinical pain influences pain ratings. These results also suggest that research on the rating and recall of pain, particularly the affective dimension of pain, should use actual patients who are experiencing changes in their naturally occurring pain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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