Behavioral factors such as avoidance and persistence have received massive theoretical and empirical attention in the attempts to explain chronic pain and disability. The determinants of these pain behaviors remain, however, poorly understood. We propose a self-regulation perspective to increase our understanding of pain-related avoidance and persistence.
A narrative review.
We identified several theoretical views that may help explaining avoidance and persistence behavior, and organized these views around 4 concepts central in self-regulation theories: (1) identity, (2) affective-motivational orientation, (3) goal cognitions, and (4) coping. The review shows that each of these self-regulation perspectives allows for a broadened view in which pain behaviors are not simply considered passive consequences of fear, but proactive strategies to regulate the self when challenged by pain.
Several implications and challenges arising from this review are discussed. In particular, a self-regulation perspective does not consider avoidance and persistence behavior to be intrinsically adaptive or maladaptive, but argues that their effects on disability and well-being rather depend on the goals underlying these behaviors. Such view would require a shift in how avoidance and persistence behavior are assessed and approached in clinical interventions.