Comparison of work-related fear-avoidance beliefs across different anatomical locations with musculoskeletal pain

J Pain Res. 2011;4:253-62. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S22457. Epub 2011 Sep 1.


Background: The influence of work-related fear-avoidance on pain and function has been consistently reported for patients with musculoskeletal low back pain. Emerging evidence suggests similar influences exist for other anatomical locations of musculoskeletal pain, such as the cervical spine and extremities. However, research is limited in comparing work-related fear-avoidance and associations with clinical outcomes across different anatomical locations. The purpose of this study was to examine the associations between work-related fear-avoidance, gender, and clinical outcomes across four different musculoskeletal pain locations for patients being treated in an outpatient physical therapy setting.

Methods: This study was a secondary analysis of data obtained prospectively from a cohort of 313 participants receiving physical therapy from an outpatient clinic.

Results: No interaction was found between gender and anatomical location of musculoskeletal pain on work-related fear-avoidance scores. Work-related fear-avoidance scores were higher in the cervical group versus the lower extremity group; however, there were no other differences across anatomical locations. Work-related fear-avoidance influenced intake pain intensity in patients with spine pain but not extremity pain. Conversely, work-related fear-avoidance influenced intake function for participants with extremity pain but not spine pain. Similar results were observed for change scores, with higher work-related fear-avoidance being associated with more, not less, change in pain and function for certain anatomical locations.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that work-related fear-avoidance is similar for patients experiencing musculoskeletal pain. However, associations between work-related fear-avoidance and clinical outcomes may differ based on the anatomical location of that pain. Further, increased work-related fear-avoidance may not be indicative of poor clinical outcomes for this type of patient population.

Keywords: avoidance; fear; function; gender; musculoskeletal; pain intensity; spine pain.