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Pain. 1993 Sep;54(3):317-22.

A psychosocial and behavioral comparison of reflex sympathetic dystrophy, low back pain, and headache patients.

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Pain Management Center, University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville 22908.


Based primarily on anecdotal evidence, patients with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) have often been suspected of having a high degree of psychosocial disturbance prior to the onset of symptoms as well as in reaction to the disorder. In the present study, patients presenting to a pain center with RSD were compared to patients with low back (LBP) and headache pain (HAP) on a variety of self-reported demographic, behavioral, pain, and mood measures. Typical of most patients experiencing chronic pain, all three groups demonstrated elevations indicative of pain, emotional distress, and behavioral disturbance. However, although the RSD patient group reported the highest level of pain intensity, the most employment disruption, and contained the highest percentage of patients receiving financial compensation, this same group paradoxically reported less emotional distress on the Symptom Checklist-90R than did LBP and HAP patients. This paradox may be due to the lesser chronicity of the RSD patients as well as to their apparently experiencing a more sympathetic response from doctors, employers, and insurance carriers than their LBP and HAP counterparts. On balance, the present data do not support the hypothesis the RSD patients, relative to other pain patients, are uniquely disturbed in psychosocial functioning.

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