Avoidance of affective pain stimuli predicts chronicity in patients with acute low back pain

Louise Sharpe*, Sonia Haggman, Michael Nicholas, Blake F. Dear, Kathryn Refshauge

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    45 Citations (Scopus)


    This prospective study of acute and sub-acute low back pain (LBP) patients was conducted to assess whether attentional biases predicted chronic pain status 3 and 6 months later. The attentional biases of 100 LBP patients were assessed within 3 months of developing pain and 6 months later. Participants also completed measures associated with outcome at 3 assessment points: baseline, 3 and 6 months later. Current pain status was assessed at follow-ups. Patients were classified as those that met standard criteria for chronic pain or those who did not (i.e., the comparison group). At baseline, participants demonstrated a bias toward sensory pain words. However, biases toward sensory pain words did not differentiate those who subsequently developed chronic pain and those who did not at either follow-up. The same bias was observed 6 months later, but again it failed to distinguish between the chronic pain and comparison groups. However, subjects who developed chronic pain at both 3 (n = 22) and 6 (n = 21) months demonstrated biases away from affective pain words at baseline but not 6 months later, in comparison to other participants. These results remained significant in multivariate analyses. These findings are consistent with patterns observed in the previous research, and suggest that avoidance of emotionally laden pain-related stimuli (i.e., affective pain words) is associated with negative outcomes for LBP patients in the acute and sub-acute phase. This research suggests that attentional biases in relation to pain-related stimuli are important for the development of chronic pain, but are more complex than initially thought.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)45-52
    Number of pages8
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


    • Acute pain
    • Attention biases
    • Avoidance
    • Chronic pain


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