What is Pain Disorder?

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  • Written By: Malysa Stratton Louk
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Pain disorder is a somatoform disorder, meaning physical symptoms of pain are real but have a psychological basis. The pain is unintentional and unrelated to substance abuse or another mental disorder. The symptoms appear related to a medical condition, and the person physically feels the pain, but there is no medical condition found to account for the pain. Such disorders result in pain that is severe enough to disrupt daily life.

The main symptom of pain disorder is the presence of severe pain in one or more locations throughout the body. This pain causes significant distress and interferes with normal daily activities. Although the pain feels real to the sufferer, the onset and severity are purely psychological.

With factitious disorders and malingering, the patient fakes or exaggerates the degree of discomfort. This is not the case with pain disorder, in which the feeling of pain is real and the patient is not merely pretending to suffer. Pain disorder is not the appropriate diagnosis if the patient is experiencing pain because of an identifiable medical condition. A related diagnosis, panic disorder associated with both psychological factors and a general medical condition, recognizes that the pain may be tied to some degree to a medical condition. In this case, the pain originates from an illness or injury, though the onset, severity and ability to maintain it are largely controlled psychologically.


In both cases, pain disorder is specified as either acute or chronic. Acute symptoms are those that last less than six months, while chronic symptoms continue for six months or longer. The discomfort associated with pain disorder is not limited to any one location on the body or a specific group of people. Children and adults of any age are equally susceptible.

Several factors play a major role in a person's ability to recover from pain disorder. The sufferer must be able to identify the pain as psychological and continue with regular daily activities as if the pain were not present. Treatment for co-occurring mental disorders and adaptive therapy are also essential to recovery. People who experience on-going chronic symptoms in multiple locations with higher intensity are less likely to reach full recovery. Anyone experiencing chronic pain that is not accounted for by an illness or injury, especially if the intense pain prevents routine daily activities such as work or school, should seek the advice of a trained therapist for treatment options.


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