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Understanding fear of pain in chronic pain: Interoceptive fear conditioning as a novel approach

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Abstract

The current review deals with interoceptive conditioning as a viable mechanism maintaining fear of pain: The available literature suggests that interoceptive—i.e., internal bodily—sensations may become predictors of pain and will subsequently elicit fear of pain.

After a short overview of interoceptive (fear) conditioning and its role in the maintenance of panic disorder, the existing literature on conditioning in the field of pain and fear of pain is reviewed. Next, the authors propose an interoceptive fear conditioning model of fear of pain, suggesting that bodily sensations can function as predictors of pain and as conditioned stimuli become endowed with the capacity to elicit an (anticipatory) fear response.

The review concludes with a number of theoretical and clinical considerations, introducing interoceptive exposure as a potentially effective treatment for fear of pain.

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