Emerging Clinical Technology: Application of Machine Learning to Chronic Pain Assessments Based on Emotional Body Maps

Pavel Goldstein, Yoni Ashar, Jonas Tesarz, Mehmet Kazgan, Burak Cetin, Tor D. Wager

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Depression and anxiety co-occur with chronic pain, and all three are thought to be caused by dysregulation of shared brain systems related to emotional processing associated with body sensations. Understanding the connection between emotional states, pain, and bodily sensations may help understand chronic pain conditions. We developed a mobile platform for measuring pain, emotions, and associated bodily feelings in chronic pain patients in their daily life conditions. Sixty-five chronic back pain patients reported the intensity of their pain, 11 emotional states, and the corresponding body locations. These variables were used to predict pain 2 weeks later. Applying machine learning, we developed two predictive models of future pain, emphasizing interpretability. One model excluded pain-related features as predictors of future pain, and the other included pain-related predictors. The best predictors of future pain were interactive effects of (a) body maps of fatigue with negative affect and (b) positive affect with past pain. Our findings emphasize the contribution of emotions, especially emotional experience felt in the body, to understanding chronic pain above and beyond the mere tracking of pain levels. The results may contribute to the generation of a novel artificial intelligence framework to help in the development of better diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)774-783
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics, Inc.


  • Chronic pain
  • bodily sensation map
  • emotions
  • interoception
  • low back pain
  • pain assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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