Psychogenic Pain Causes and Treatment

Psychogenic pain is the term for pain that is primarily caused by psychological factors, such as depression and anxiety. While psychogenic pain is not caused by clear physical pathology, it is a very real type of chronic pain. People with depression and anxiety may report psychogenic pain all over their bodies, even when there is no apparent physical cause.

Depressed woman sitting on the ground with her head in her arms
lolostock / Getty Images

Psychogenic pain is often harder to treat than nociceptive pain or neuropathic pain. Traditional painkillers are designed to treat physical problems, such as inflammation or nerve dysfunction.

With psychogenic pain, however, there is often no physical cause to find and treat. Non-pharmaceutical pain treatments, such as TENS and distraction, tend to be more effective at reducing psychogenic pain than traditional painkillers.

What Triggers Psychogenic Pain

Although this pain is very real for those who experience it, there is no specific test to determine whether you have psychogenic pain.

This type of pain can have many different psychological factors that can trigger, exacerbate, or maintain the pain:

  • Beliefs
  • Emotions
  • Fears
  • Mental illness like depression or anxiety


Psychogenic pain can present in a variety of ways. Here are some common symptoms attributable to this condition:

  • Muscle pains
  • Stomach pains
  • Back pains
  • Headaches

How a Physician Determines You Have Psychogenic Pain

When you present to your physician with pain, your physician will do a physical exam to figure out the physical or neurological origin of this pain. With psychogenic pain, tangible organic or physical findings are neither present nor substantial enough to account for the pain that you experience.

Instead, psychological factors contribute to the onset, severity, and exacerbation of the pain. Your physician should elicit a history to uncover such psychological factors.

Repercussions of Psychogenic Pain

Psychogenic pain can have serious consequences and erode your quality of life and health status. First, people with psychogenic pain can miss work due to the pain.

Second, people with psychogenic pain often spend a lot of time visiting with healthcare professionals trying to figure out how to treat the pain.

Third, psychogenic pain can contribute to the abuse of and dependence on pain medications (think opioid pain relievers like Norco or Vicodin).


Psychogenic pain can be challenging to adequately treat. Often, mental health professionals work with medical physicians to treat this condition. Here are some possible treatments for psychogenic pain:

  • Non-narcotic painkillers (think NSAIDs like acetaminophen or ibuprofen)
  • Psychotherapy
  • Antidepressants

Opioid painkillers are not a good treatment option for psychogenic pain. These medications fail to target the root cause of this condition, which is psychological, and instead can result in abuse and dependence, which are frightening problems on their own.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Pain: Psychogenic Pain.

  2. Danilov AB, Isagilyan ED, Mackaschova ES. Psychogenic pain. Zh Nevrol Psikhiatr Im S S Korsakova. 2018;118(11):103-108. Russian. doi:10.17116/jnevro2018118111103

  3. Toda K. The terms neurogenic pain and psychogenic pain complicate clinical practice. Clin J Pain. 2007;23(4):380-1. doi:10.1097/AJP.0b013e31803b36dd

Additional Reading

By Erica Jacques
Erica Jacques, OT, is a board-certified occupational therapist at a level one trauma center.