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Behav Res Ther. 1995 Sep;33(7):771-7.

Anxiety sensitivity in patients with physically unexplained chronic back pain: a preliminary report.

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Department of Rehabilitation Research, Wascana Rehabilitation Centre, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.


It has been proposed that high anxiety sensitivity amplifies a number of fears and anxiety reactions. The purpose of this study was to examine whether anxiety sensitivity influences pain-related anxiety and associated cognitive and affective reactions in patients with physically unexplained chronic back pain. Seventy patients with chronic back pain without demonstrable organic pathology completed a battery of questionnaires prior to admission to a multidisciplinary treatment centre. Fourteen patients (20.0%) were classified as high, 44 (62.9%) as medium and 12 (17.1%) as low anxiety sensitive. Multivariate analysis of variance indicated that the high anxiety sensitive patients were more negatively affected by their experience with pain. Specifically, high anxiety sensitivity patients exhibited greater cognitive disruption and anxiety in response to pain, greater fear of negative consequences of pain, and greater negativity of affect than the other groups. Groups did not differ in the intensity of pain that they were experiencing. The proportion of high anxiety sensitive patients reporting current use of analgesic medication was, however, significantly greater than the medium and low anxiety sensitive patients. Correlational analyses indicated significant associations between anxiety sensitivity and pain-related cognitive/affective variables that were independent of pain severity. These results suggest that chronic back pain patients with high anxiety sensitivity, despite equal levels of pain severity, are more likely to be negatively affected by their pain experiences than those with medium and low anxiety sensitivity.

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