The Effects of Posttraumatic Stress and Trauma-Focused Disclosure on Experimental Pain Sensitivity Among Trauma-Exposed Women

Caitlyn O. Hood, Christal L. Badour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Previous studies evaluating the impact of trauma history and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on pain sensitivity have yielded inconsistent findings. The presence of trauma-related negative affective states may account for these discrepancies. The current study aimed to evaluate the effect of PTSD and trauma-related negative affect on sensory, affective, physiological, and neuroendocrine responses to an experimental pain task. Trauma-exposed adult women (N = 87) with or without probable PTSD underwent an emotional disclosure paradigm during which they wrote about a traumatic event or a neutral topic. Participants then completed a pain induction procedure. Sensory and affective reports of pain, as well as physiological and neuroendocrine reactivity, were assessed. Compared to women without PTSD, those with PTSD demonstrated decreased sensory pain responses, ηp² =.11, including increased time to pain detection (i.e., threshold) and ability to withstand the pain stimuli (i.e., tolerance) after accounting for relevant covariates. Women with PTSD also demonstrated increased cortisol reactivity following the pain stimulus, ηp² =.06. The main and interactive effects of PTSD group and writing condition did not significantly predict alterations in affective reports of pain or heart rate reactivity. The results suggest that PTSD symptoms may contribute to alterations in pain sensitivity in trauma-exposed women, but this association is complex and requires further exploration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1071-1081
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Traumatic Stress
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
All authors declare they have no conflicts of interest. This research was supported by a Psi Chi Graduate Research Grant (C.O.H) as well as funding from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (UL1 TR001998). Effort on this project was supported by the Office of Women's Health Research and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (K12 DA035150, T32 DA035200) through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This publication's contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NIH.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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