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J Pain. 2011 Oct;12(10):1049-58. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2011.04.009. Epub 2011 Jun 25.

Activity patterns in chronic pain: underlying dimensions and associations with disability and depressed mood.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


Activity patterns are believed to play an important role in the development and perpetuation of chronic pain. So far, 3 important activity patterns have been studied: avoidance behavior, persistence behavior, and pacing behavior. Yet, empirical evidence is limited and inconclusive about the relationships between these activity patterns and important outcomes. Therefore, the present study was aimed at identifying activity patterns by means of factor analyses and determining their relationship with disability and depressive symptomatology in participants with chronic pain (N = 132). Items across different measurement instruments pertaining to 1 particular activity pattern were aggregated, and submitted to factor analysis. Results from 3 separate factor analyses revealed 6 distinct activity patterns: pain avoidance, activity avoidance, task-contingent persistence, excessive persistence, pain-contingent persistence, and pacing. In line with our hypotheses, pain and activity avoidance, and excessive persistence, were related to higher levels of disability and depressive symptomatology. In contrast to hypotheses, pacing was associated with worse outcomes as well. Interestingly, task-contingent persistence was related to lower levels of disability and depressive symptomatology. When controlling for pain and the other activity patterns, excessive persistence and activity avoidance were the most detrimental in terms of relations with depressed mood or disability. Task-contingent persistence appeared to be the least detrimental.


Our findings suggest the existence of several activity patterns, which are differentially related to disability and depressive symptomatology, in participants with chronic pain. The present results are discussed in the light of previous findings, and may provide a new impetus for future studies on activity patterns in chronic pain research.

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