This cross-sectional study examined the associations among optimism, psychological resilience, endogenous pain inhibition, and clinical knee pain severity. Two hypotheses were tested. First, we hypothesized that experimentally tested endogenous pain inhibition would mediate the relationship between optimism and clinical knee pain severity. Second, it was also hypothesized that optimism would moderate the relationships of psychological resilience with endogenous pain inhibition and clinical knee pain severity, particularly for individuals with high optimism.
A total of 150 individuals with or at risk for symptomatic knee osteoarthritis completed the Life Orientation Test-Revised, the Brief Resilience Scale, and the revised Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire-2 to assess optimism, psychological resilience, and clinical knee pain severity, respectively. Endogenous pain inhibition was examined experimentally using a conditioned pain modulation (CPM) protocol with algometry (test stimulus) and a cold pressor task (conditioning stimulus).
As hypothesized, results showed that increased CPM significantly mediated the association between higher optimism and lower clinical knee pain severity. Further, optimism moderated the association between psychological resilience and CPM. However, contrary to our hypothesis, greater psychological resilience was associated with enhanced CPM in individuals with low optimism only.
This study suggests that an optimistic outlook may beneficially impact clinical pain severity by altering endogenous pain modulatory capacity. Furthermore, individuals with low optimism (ie, pessimists) may be more adept at engaging resources that promote psychological resilience, which in turn, enhances endogenous pain modulatory capacity. Therefore, this study supports consideration of psychological resilience factors when evaluating experimental and clinical pain outcomes.