Dysfunctional pain perception and modulation among torture survivors: The role of pain personification

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Abstract

Objective: Individuals exposed to trauma, especially those who develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are at a higher risk of suffering from chronic pain as well as altered pain perception and modulation. However, the underlying mechanisms of these processes are yet to be established. Recent findings have indicated that trauma survivors tend to personify chronic pain that is developed after the exposure, in a way that resonates with the traumatic experience. The aim of this study was to test whether pain personification plays a significant role in explaining the long-term links between trauma, PTSD and pain. Methods: This study is part of a large-scale longitudinal study on ex-prisoners of war (ex-POWs) from the 1973 Yom-Kippur war, who were followed over 35 years after the war. Fifty-nine ex-POWs who were exposed to torture and 44 matched combatants were assessed for PTSD at 18, 30, and 35 post-war. Quantitative somatosensory testing of heat-pain threshold, pain tolerance, conditioned pain modulation (CPM), and temporal summation of pain (TSP), as well as torturing personification, were assessed at 35 years after the war. Results: Sequential mediation analyses revealed that the associations between torture and heat pain threshold, as well as pain tolerance were mediated by PTSD at several time-points (−1.43<indirect effect < 1.47). Torturing personification significantly mediated the associations between torture, PTSD, CPM and TSP (−0.16 < indirect effect). Conclusions: These findings point to the effect of trauma on the subjective orientation towards bodily signals as a key factor in dysfunctional pain modulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-17
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Volume265
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2020

Keywords

  • PTSD
  • Pain modulation
  • Pain perception
  • Pain personification
  • Torture
  • Trauma

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