The Language of Pain: Is There a Relationship Between Metaphor Use and Adjustment to Chronic Pain?

Oxford University Press (OUP)
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Pain Med, 2021
Issue Date:
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OBJECTIVE: Metaphor, frequently used in chronic pain, can function as a communicative tool, facilitating understanding and empathy from others. Previous research has demonstrated that specific linguistic markers exist for areas such as pain catastrophizing, mood, as well as diagnostic categories. The current study sought to examine potential associations between the types of pain metaphors used and diagnostic category, disability, and mood. DESIGN: Online cross-sectional survey in Sydney, Australia. SUBJECTS: People with chronic pain (n = 247, age 19-78 years, M = 43.69). METHODS: The data collected included demographics, pain metaphors, the Brief Pain Inventory (BPI) and the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scales (DASS-21). Associations between metaphor source domains, obtained via Systematic Metaphor Analysis, and scores on the BPI, DASS-21, as well as diagnostic group were considered using binary logistic analysis. RESULTS: Use of different pain metaphors was not associated with pain intensity, however the extent to which pain interfered with daily life did have a relationship with use of metaphorical language. Preliminary support was found for an association between the use of certain pain metaphors and self-reported diagnostic categories, notably Endometriosis, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, and Neuropathic pain. CONCLUSIONS: There may be specific linguistic metaphorical markers to indicate pain interference and for particular diagnoses. Appreciation of pain metaphors has potential to facilitate communication and enhance understanding in interactions between clinicians and people with chronic pain.
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