What is pain-related suffering? Conceptual critiques, key attributes, and outstanding questions

J Pain. 2021 Nov 28:S1526-5900(21)00370-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2021.11.005. Online ahead of print.


Suffering holds a central place within pain research, theory, and practice. However, the construct of pain-related suffering has yet to be operationalized by the International Association for the Study of Pain and is largely underdeveloped. Eric Cassell’s seminal work on suffering serves as a conceptual anchor for the limited pain research that specifically addresses this construct. Yet, important critiques of Cassell’s work have not been integrated within the pain literature. This Focus Article aims to take a preliminary step towards an updated operationalization of pain-related suffering by (1) presenting key attributes of pain-related suffering derived from a synthesis of the literature and (2) highlighting key challenges associated with Cassell’s conceptualization of suffering. We present four key attributes: (1) pain and suffering are inter-related, but distinct experiences, (2) suffering is a subjective experience, (3) the experience of suffering is characterized by a negative affective valence, and (4) disruption to one’s sense of self is an integral part of suffering. A key outstanding challenge is that suffering is commonly viewed as a self-reflective and future-oriented process, which fails to validate many forms of suffering and marginalizes certain populations. Future research addressing different modes of suffering – with and without self-reflection – are discussed. PERSPECTIVE: This article offers a preliminary step toward operationalizing the construct of pain-related suffering and proposes priorities for future research. A robust operationalization of this construct is essential to developing clinical strategies that aim to better recognize and alleviate suffering among people living with pain.

PMID:34852304 | DOI:10.1016/j.jpain.2021.11.005

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