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Attentional and emotional mechanisms related to pain as predictors of chronic postoperative pain: A comparison with other psychological and physiological predictors

Lautenbacher, Stefana,*; Huber, Claudiaa,b; Schöfer, Dorotheaa,b; Kunz, Miriama; Parthum, Andreasa,b; Weber, Peter G.c; Roman, Carbonc; Griessinger, Norbertb; Sittl, Reinhardb

doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.08.041

The present prospective longitudinal study on chronic postoperative pain was conducted to assess the predictive power of attentional and emotional variables specifically assumed to augment pain, such as pain hypervigilance, pain-related anxiety, pain catastrophizing and attentional biases to pain. Their relevance was determined in comparison with other psychological and physiological predictors (depression, anxiety, somatization, cortisol reactivity, pain sensitivity). In 84 young male patients the predictor variables were assessed one day before surgery (correction of chest malformation). Postoperative outcome (subjective pain intensity and pain-related disability) was assessed three (N = 84) and six months (N = 78) after surgery. Patients were classified into good and poor outcome groups. Patients with high pain intensity three (25%) or six months (14%) after surgery, differed significantly from those low in pain with regard to their preoperative performance in the dot-probe task (high attentional bias towards positive words). A sizeable portion (54%) of patients still felt disabled due to pain after three months and a few patients after six months (13%). These patients were those with high preoperative ratings in the Pain Vigilance and Awareness Questionnaire. The few subjectively disabled patients after six months could be identified in addition by low pressure pain and high cold pain thresholds before surgery. An attentional bias towards positive stimuli prior to surgery may indicate a maladaptive coping style, which avoids necessary confrontation with pain and predisposes patients to chronic postoperative pain. Lasting subjectively felt pain-related disability occurs predominantly in patients with high levels of pain hypervigilance before surgery.

aPhysiological Psychology, Otto-Friedrich University Bamberg, Germany

bPain Center, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen, Germany

cDepartment of Pediatric Surgery, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen, Germany

*Corresponding author. Address: Physiological Psychology, University of Bamberg, Markuspl. 3, 96045 Bamberg, Germany. Tel.: +49 951 8631851; fax: +49 951 8631976.


Submitted December 14, 2009; revised July 14, 2010; accepted August 25, 2010.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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