In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Does Emotional Approach Coping Ease Chronic Pain?

Two people take an emotional coping approach of therapy to help relieve chronic pain

This article was originally published on Confronting Chronic Pain by Dr. Steven Richeimer, Director Pain Medicine Master and Certificate.

It’s widely understood that those who experience chronic pain have a higher rate of depression. The pain can overtake your life and steal your joy. People often experience a range of emotions, including anger, frustration, anxiety, and sadness. Some researchers wonder if the emotions people have toward chronic pain can impact the pain itself.

Emotional Approach Coping

In the June 2020 issue of the European Journal of Pain, researchers shared findings from a study they conducted to see if emotional approach coping helped with chronic pain [1]. To conduct the study, they found 670 participants, of which 76% were women, and 30% were over the age of 60. Researchers measured pain severity, pain interference, and negative affect for each of the participants.

Emotional approach coping is a style that focuses on understanding and processing one’s emotions, and then expressing them in an appropriate manner. It is often used to help people learn to cope with conditions that they have no ability to change. When it comes to chronic pain, the goal of using emotional approach coping would be to help regulate the negative reactions to the pain.

Related Reading: Does Self-Compassion Help with Chronic Pain Management? 

Using emotional approach coping would acknowledge that the pain is there, but it focuses on not being negative about it. It’s kind of a mind over matter approach to coping with situations that you can’t change.

What did the researchers find?

What the researchers found was that using the approach was associated with lower pain intensity in the young and middle-aged participants, but not in the older adults. While it wasn’t found to be all that helpful for older adults, those who are younger and middle aged who have chronic pain may benefit from using emotional approach coping.

Related Reading: Non-Pharmacological Interventions to Help Older People with Chronic Pain

This study backs up a prior one that offered similar findings. In a 2017 issue of The Journal of Pain, researchers shared their findings of a study that was 74% male participants [2]. They found that women utilized this coping style more than men, and that they had better outcomes with it then men. Overall, they concluded that emotional approach coping may help women suffering from chronic pain.

The good news with this study is that it is not a costly treatment and there’s really nothing to lose with trying it out. Those who want to use emotional approach coping can do so to determine if they personally get relief. Those who are working with chronic pain patients may want to suggest it to their female patients to see if they can get some relief by implementing it.


[1] European Journal of Pain. Emotions Matter: The Role of Emotional Approach Coping in Chronic Pain. June 2020.

[2] The Journal of Pain. Emotional approach coping among patients with chronic pain. 2017.

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Posted: August 25, 2020
<a href="" target="_self">Dr. Steven H. Richeimer</a>

Dr. Steven H. Richeimer

Steven Richeimer, M.D. is a renowned specialist on issues related to chronic pain. He is the chief of the Division of Pain Medicine at the University of Southern California. He has written or co-written a large number of scientific articles about pain medicine. He recently published an instructive book and guide for pain patients. Dr. Richeimer has given numerous lectures to medical and lay audiences throughout the U.S.

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