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J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2005 Feb;87(2):374-80.

Psychological factors associated with idiopathic arm pain.

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Hand and Upper Extremity Service, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, WACC 525, 15 Parkman Street, Boston, MA 02114, USA.



Psychological and personality factors may be as important as, or more important than, pathological processes in the experience of pain, particularly in patients whose pain has a vague or uncertain source.


Validated measures of psychological factors were used to prospectively evaluate fifty-six patients with a single, discrete pain complaint and fifty-one patients with vague, diffuse idiopathic arm pain. Pain was assessed with use of 10-point Likert scales, the Pain Anxiety Symptoms Scale, the Pain Catastrophizing Scale, the Wahler Physical Symptom Inventory, the Body Consciousness Questionnaire, and the Multidimensional Health Locus of Control Scale.


Patients with idiopathic arm pain reported more severe pain at rest (p = 0.02) and with repeated movements (p = 0.01); exhibited higher levels of cognitive anxiety (p = 0.008); demonstrated greater helplessness (p = 0.002), pain magnification (p = 0.007), and overall catastrophic coping mechanisms for dealing with pain (p = 0.005); and showed a tendency for increased somatic complaining (p = 0.07). A multiple logistic regression model identified the total score on the Pain Catastrophizing Scale as the sole predictor of idiopathic pain complaints.


Pain complaints without a clear physical cause are common and are frustrating for both patients and physicians. Awareness of the psychological factors associated with idiopathic arm pain may lead to more effective interventions designed to improve coping mechanisms while at the same time limiting the use of meddlesome and potentially harmful diagnoses and treatments.

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