Pain Perception and Modulation in Ex-POWs Who Underwent Torture: The Role of Subjective and Objective Suffering

Noga Tsur*, Ruth Defrin, Yafit Levin, Liat Itzhaky, Zahava Solomon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Previous findings have demonstrated that torture survivors exhibit chronic pain and alterations in pain perception. However, not much is known regarding the characteristics of the torture experience and its contribution to these long-term ramifications. The current study examined the unique role of objective severity and subjective suffering in torture in predicting chronic pain and acute pain perception and pain modulation. Method: Eighteen years after war, 59 former prisoners of war who were subjected to severe torture in captivity were assessed for subjective suffering in torture and estimated weight loss during captivity (an indication of torture severity) using self-administered questionnaires. Thirty-five years after captivity, systemic quantitative somatosensory testing was conducted, which included the measurement of pain threshold, pain tolerance, conditioned pain modulation, and perceived suprathreshold stimuli. Self-administered questionnaires were also used to evaluate chronic pain and posttraumatic stress disorder. Results: The findings indicated that subjective suffering was associated with pain threshold, conditioned pain modulation, perceived suprathreshold stimuli, and chronic pain while controlling for posttraumatic stress symptoms. Estimated weight loss was associated only with pain threshold. Conclusion: The findings demonstrate that the experience of chronic and acute pain is rooted in the subjective perception of traumatic experiences.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Chronic pain
  • Ex-prisoner of war
  • Pain perception
  • Torture
  • Trauma


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