The objective of this study was to summarize the current status of knowledge about the longitudinal association between vulnerability or protective psychological factors and the onset and/or persistence of musculoskeletal (MSK) pain.
PubMed, CINAHL, PsycINFO, PubPsych, Scopus, Web of Science, gray literature, and manual screening of references were searched from inception to June 15, 2019. Systematic reviews with or without meta-analysis that explored the longitudinal association between psychological factors and the onset and/or persistence of MSK pain were identified. The AMSTAR-2 tool was used to assess the risk of bias.
Fifty-nine systematic reviews that included 286 original research studies were included, with a total of 249,657 participants (127,370 with MSK pain and 122,287 without MSK pain at baseline). Overall, our results found that exposure to many psychological vulnerability factors such as depression, anxiety, psychological distress, and fear, among others, may increase the risk of the onset and persistence of MSK pain across time. In addition, our results also showed that a range of psychological factors considered to be “protective” such as self-efficacy beliefs, better mental health, active coping strategies, or favorable expectations of recovery may reduce the risk of the onset and persistence of MSK pain. However, all these systematic reviews were evaluated to have critically low confidence based on the AMSTAR-2 tool, indicating that findings from these reviews may be informative, but should be interpreted with caution.
The large number of methodological flaws found across reviews gives rise to a call to action to develop high-quality systematic reviews in this field.