Patient Responses to the Term Pain Catastrophizing: Thematic Analysis of Cross-sectional International Data

Published:October 10, 2022DOI:


      • The term pain catastrophizing is widespread in clinical and public pain forums.
      • About 3,000 patients provided their perspective on the term pain catastrophizing.
      • For an open-ended item, 1/3 said the term was problematic or stigmatizing.
      • There was an absence of unprompted assessment of the term for 2/3 of the sample.
      • 12% reported stigmatizing experiences from the term being applied to them.


      Pain catastrophizing is understood as a negative cognitive and emotional response to pain. Researchers, advocates and patients have reported stigmatizing effects of the term in clinical settings and the media. We conducted an international study to investigate patient perspectives on the term pain catastrophizing. Open-ended electronic patient and caregiver proxy surveys were promoted internationally by collaborator stakeholders and through social media. 3,521 surveys were received from 47 countries (77.3% from the U.S.). The sample was mainly female (82.1%), with a mean age of 41.62 (SD 12.03) years; 95% reported ongoing pain and pain duration > 10 years (68.4%). Forty-five percent (n = 1,295) had heard of the term pain catastrophizing; 12% (n = 349) reported being described as a ‘pain catastrophizer’ by a clinician with associated high levels of feeling blamed, judged, and dismissed. We present qualitative thematic data analytics for responses to open-ended questions, with 32% of responses highlighting the problematic nature of the term. We present the patients’ perspective on the term pain catastrophizing, its material effect on clinical experiences, and associations with negative gender stereotypes. Use of patient-centered terminology may be important for favorably shaping the social context of patients’ experience of pain and pain care.


      Our international patient survey found that 45% had heard of the term pain catastrophizing, about one-third spontaneously rated the term as problematic, and 12% reported the term was applied to them with most stating this was a negative experience. Clinician education on patient-centered terminology may improve care and reduce stigma.

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