Exposure to a traumatic event is common among US adults, yet only a small fraction develops posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Higher pain after a traumatic injury has been associated with higher PTSD symptoms and thus may be a risk factor. However, few studies have examined how pain during the period immediately after a trauma, referred to as the acute posttrauma period, relates later to PTSD outcomes.
A sample of (n = 87) individuals who had experienced a traumatic injury assessed their pain through daily mobile assessments for the first month after injury. PTSD, depression, and functional impairment were assessed at the time of trauma and 1 and 3 months later.
Using latent class growth analysis, three trajectories of pain were identified: low pain (41.3%), decreasing pain (43.7%), and high pain (14.9%). At baseline, the high-pain class reported higher levels of depression and functional impairment than did the low-pain group. From baseline to 3 months, the low-pain class experienced a reduction in PTSD, depression, and functional impairment, whereas the high-pain class experienced an increase in PTSD symptoms, persistent depression, and functional impairment.
These results demonstrate that there are distinct trajectories of pain after a traumatic injury. Persistent elevated pain is associated with more severe psychopathology in the period immediately after a traumatic injury.