Identifying mechanisms that mediate recovery is imperative to improve outcomes in low back pain (LBP). Qualitative studies suggest that guilt may be such a mechanism, but research on this concept is scarce, and reliable instruments to measure pain-related guilt are not available.
We addressed this gap by developing and testing a Pain-related Guilt Scale (PGS) for people with LBP. Two samples of participants with LBP completed the scale and provided data on rates of depression, anxiety, pain intensity, and disability.
Three factors were identified using exploratory factor analysis (n=137): “Social guilt,” (4 items) relating to letting down family and friends; “Managing condition/pain guilt,” (5 items) relating to failing to overcome and control pain; and “Verification of pain guilt,” (3 items) relating to the absence of objective evidence and diagnosis. This factor structure was confirmed using confirmatory factor analysis (n=288), demonstrating an adequate to good fit with the data (AGFI=0.913, RMSEA=0.061). The PGS subscales positively correlated with depression, anxiety, pain intensity, and disability. After controlling for depression and anxiety the majority of relationships between the PGS subscales and disability and pain intensity remained significant, suggesting that guilt shared unique variance with disability and pain intensity independent of depression and anxiety. High levels of guilt were reported by over 40% of participants.
The findings suggest that pain-related guilt is common and is associated with clinical outcomes. Prospective research is needed to examine the role of guilt as a predictor, moderator, and mediator of patients’ outcomes.