Parental behaviors, emotions, and cognitions are known to influence children’s response to pain. However, prior work has not tested the association between maternal psychological factors and children’s responses to a conditioned pain modulation (CPM) task. CPM refers to the reduction in perceived pain intensity for a test stimulus following application of a conditioning stimulus to a remote area of the body, and is thought to reflect the descending inhibition of nociceptive signals.
The present study examined sex differences in the association between maternal anxiety about pain and children’s CPM responses in 133 healthy children aged 8–17 years. Maternal pain anxiety was assessed using the Pain Anxiety Symptoms Scale-20. In addition to the magnitude of CPM, children’s anticipatory anxiety and pain-related fear of the CPM task were measured.
Sequential multiple linear regression revealed that even after controlling for child age and general maternal psychological distress, greater maternal pain anxiety was significantly related to greater CPM anticipatory anxiety and pain-related fear in girls, and to less CPM (ie, less pain inhibition) in boys.