Open Access Open Badges Research article

Changes in pain catastrophizing predict later changes in fibromyalgia clinical and experimental pain report: cross-lagged panel analyses of dispositional and situational catastrophizing

Claudia M Campbell1*, Lea McCauley1, Sara C Bounds1, Vani A Mathur1, Lora Conn1, Mpepera Simango1, Robert R Edwards2 and Kevin R Fontaine3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; 5510 Nathan Shock Drive, Suite 100; Baltimore, MD 21224, USA

2 Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Brigham & Women's Hospital; 850 Boylston Street, Suite 302; Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA

3 Department of Health Behavior, University of Alabama School of Public Health; 1665 University Blvd; Birmingham, AL 35294, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:R231  doi:10.1186/ar4073

Published: 25 October 2012



Fibromyalgia (FM), characterized by wide-spread diffuse pain and sensory abnormalities, is associated with elevated indices of distress and pain-related catastrophizing compared to both pain-free samples and those with chronic pain conditions. Catastrophizing is a pervasive negative mental set, and is a strong predictor of negative pain-related outcomes such as clinical pain intensity, and physical disability. Situational catastrophizing, measured in the context of experimentally-induced pain, is strongly related to enhanced pain sensitivity, a core aspect of the pathophysiology of fibromyalgia. However, little is known regarding the temporal course of the association between catastrophizing and pain-related "outcomes". Most studies involve only static assessments of pain and catastrophizing at a single time point, which provides little insight into the direction of the observed associations. We sought to investigate the temporal relationships between catastrophizing and indices of both clinical pain (substudy 1) and experimentally-induced pain (substudy 2) in a larger randomized controlled longitudinal trial.


Fifty-seven patients with FM completed catastrophizing, depression, and pain questionnaires as well as laboratory cold pressor pain testing at baseline, post-intervention and three month follow-up during a lifestyle physical activity study. Cross-lagged panel analyses were used to address these temporal relationships.


In substudy 1, analyses revealed that pre-to-post changes in dispositional catastrophizing ratings prospectively accounted for unique variance in subsequent post-to-follow-up changes in clinical pain ratings (p = 0.005), while pre-to-post changes in pain ratings did not account for unique variance in post-to-follow-up changes in catastrophizing ratings. An identical pattern was observed experimentally in substudy 2, with pre-to-post changes in situational catastrophizing ratings prospectively accounting for unique variance in subsequent post-to-follow-up changes in experimental pain ratings (p = 0.014), while pre-to-post changes in pain ratings did not account for unique variance in post-to-follow-up changes in catastrophizing ratings. Specifically, initial alterations in catastrophizing were associated with subsequent alterations in clinical and experimentally induced pain. Controlling for levels of depression did not affect the results.


These findings provide empirical evidence that catastrophizing processes might precede and contribute to subsequent alterations in the pain experience for FM patients.

Trial Registration NCT00383084.