In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Change Your Thoughts, Reduce Your Pain Severity

Reduce Your Pain Severity

Chronic pain is something that millions of people feel, and it can be debilitating for many. There are additional problems that people face that often go along with chronic pain, such as depression and anxiety. Another powerful thing that is often associated with chronic pain is the thoughts that we have about it. The types of thoughts we have about the chronic pain we have can have an impact on the pain intensity, as well as other associated conditions.

The good news is that there is something that can be done to help improve this situation. When we change our thoughts, we can help to reduce our pain severity. Researchers published the results of a study in the December 2020 issue of the Galen Medical Journal that focused on using rumination-focused cognitive behavior therapy to help with chronic low back pain [1].

Pain catastrophizing has an impact on the pain intensity and psychological conditions that people experience when they have chronic pain. Pain catastrophizing is when people who have chronic pain end up magnifying the threat of it and ruminate on it, or keep having negative thoughts about it. When someone with chronic pain keeps thinking about the pain in a negative way and telling themselves that it’s going to be bad, get worse, or keep them from doing things, this leads to worse outcomes and can leave people feeling helpless.

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The study to help address this focused on rumination, or dwelling on the negative feelings about the pain, which are affecting the pain coping behavior. Researchers set out to see if using rumination-focused cognitive behavior therapy for those with chronic low back pain would help to address depression, anxiety, and pain severity.

There were 30 chronic low back pain patients who participated in the study. They were given a questionnaire when the study began, as well as after three months and after six months. The participants all received 12 weekly sessions of the therapy, in addition to continuing their prescribed pain medications.

The researchers found that rumination-focused cognitive behavior therapy significantly reduced depression, anxiety, and pain severity. Those who participated in the study have good results from participating in the weekly therapy. Negative rumination is believed to be linked to the onset of such things as anxiety and depression. This study shows how powerful it can be to change negative thoughts, as it can not only help our mindset, but can reduce chronic low back pain intensity as well.

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Like what you’re learning? Consider enrolling in the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC’s online, competency-based certificate or master’s program in Pain Medicine in partnership with the Keck School of Medicine of USC.


  1. Galen Medical Journal. Rumination-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. December 2020.

Interested in reading more? Click here for more articles written by Dr. Steven Richeimer, Director of USC’s Pain Medicine Master and Certificate Programs.

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