Evaluating the novel added value of neurophysiological pain sensitivity within the fear‐avoidance model of pain
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BACKGROUND: The fear-avoidance model (FAM) is a leading theoretical paradigm for explaining persistent pain following musculoskeletal injury. The model suggests that as injuries heal, pain-related outcomes are increasingly determined by psychological, rather than physiological factors. Increasing literature, however, suggests that neurophysiological processes related to pain sensitivity also play an important role in chronicity. To date, there has been limited research that has specifically explored the role of pain sensitivity within the FAM. This study addresses this gap by evaluating whether clinical measures of pain sensitivity help explain FAM-related outcomes, beyond model-relevant psychological predictors. METHODS: The study sample consisted of 80 adults with chronic and widespread musculoskeletal pain. Participants completed a single testing session that included measures of all of the major constructs of the FAM, including pain catastrophizing, pain-related fear, activity avoidance (self-report and functional measures), pain-related disability, depression and pain severity, as well as a battery of quantitative sensory testing that included measures of pressure pain threshold and temporal summation of mechanical pain across eight body sites. RESULTS: A series of hierarchical regression analyses revealed that after controlling for the psychological predictors of the FAM, indices of pain sensitivity significantly predicted 4 of the 5 FAM-related outcomes (p < 0.05). Depression was the only outcome not significantly predicted by pain sensitivity. Interestingly, measures of pain sensitivity, but not FAM psychological factors, predicted the functional measure of activity avoidance. CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide further evidence for the importance of neurophysiological factors within the FAM and have important clinical and theoretical implications. SIGNIFICANCE: This study provides evidence for the unique and added value of neurophysiological factors within the Fear Avoidance Model of pain and for the importance of integrating both sensory and psychological factors within both theoretical paradigms and clinical management strategies.
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