Neglected topics in the treatment of chronic pain patients--relapse, noncompliance, and adherence enhancement

Pain. 1991 Jan;44(1):5-28. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(91)90142-K.


Although published treatment outcome studies for chronic pain have provided favorable support for the efficacy of many pain clinics and the use of specific modalities such as biofeedback and relaxation, there are several factors that mitigate against euphoria. Two related factors that influence interpretation of these reported outcomes are discussed, namely, noncompliance with therapeutic recommendations during treatment and subsequent to treatment termination, and relapse. Conceptual and methodological problems for establishing the prevalence of noncompliance and relapse are reviewed. Several factors that contribute to noncompliance (individual differences, nature of disease or injury, characteristics of the prescribed treatment regimen, health-care provider-patient relationship, and contextual) are discussed. The literature reveals that noncompliance with treatment regimens is quite prevalent across diverse treatment modalities and pain syndromes. The incidence of relapse following initially successful treatment of persistent pain also appears to be high, ranging from 30% to 60%. Studies on arthritis and heterogeneous pain clinic populations suggest that noncompliance and relapse are related; however, this association is less well established for headache patients. Strategies for assessing compliance (i.e., self-report, behavioral, biochemical, and clinical outcome) and the perspectives' of patients and health-care providers on the application of self-care recommendations are discussed. Strategic planning and adherence enhancement tactics to facilitate maintenance of post-treatment gains are described.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain Management*
  • Patient Compliance
  • Recurrence