Barriers and facilitators to chronic pain self-management: a qualitative study of primary care patients with comorbid musculoskeletal pain and depression

Pain Med. 2009 Oct;10(7):1280-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2009.00707.x.


Objective: To identify barriers and facilitators to self-management of chronic musculoskeletal pain among patients with comorbid pain and depression.

Design: A qualitative study using focus group methodology.

Setting: Veteran Affairs (VA) and University primary care clinics.

Patients: Recruited after participation in a clinical trial.

Intervention: The Stepped Care for Affective Disorders and Musculoskeletal Pain (SCAMP) trial tested an intervention of optimized antidepressant therapy combined with a pain self-management program versus usual care for primary care patients with comorbid chronic pain and depression.

Outcome measures: Thematic content analysis from focus group data was used to identify patient-perceived barriers and facilitators to self-management of chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Results: Patients (N = 18) were 27 to 84 years old (M = 54.8), 61% women, 72% white, and 22% black. Barriers to pain self-management included: 1) lack of support from friends and family; 2) limited resources (e.g., transportation, financial); 3) depression; 4) ineffectiveness of pain-relief strategies; 5) time constraints and other life priorities; 6) avoiding activity because of fear of pain exacerbation; 7) lack of tailoring strategies to meet personal needs; 8) not being able to maintain the use of strategies after study completion; 9) physical limitations; and 10) difficult patient-physician interactions. Facilitators to improve pain self-management included 1) encouragement from nurse care managers; 2) improving depression with treatment; 3) supportive family and friends; and 4) providing a menu of different self-management strategies to use.

Conclusions: Future research is needed to confirm these findings and to design interventions that capitalize on the facilitators identified while at the same time addressing the barriers to pain self-management.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arthralgia / epidemiology*
  • Arthralgia / psychology
  • Arthralgia / therapy*
  • Attitude to Health
  • Chronic Disease
  • Comorbidity
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Indiana / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Self Care / psychology
  • Self Care / statistics & numerical data*