Activity pacing in chronic pain: concepts, evidence, and future directions

Clin J Pain. 2013 May;29(5):461-8. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e3182608561.


Background: Activity pacing (AP) is a concept that is central to many chronic pain theories and treatments, yet there remains confusion regarding its definition and effects.

Objective: To review the current knowledge concerning AP and integrate this knowledge in a manner that allows for a clear definition and useful directions for future research.

Methods: A narrative review of the major theoretical approaches to AP and of the empirical evidence regarding the effects of AP interventions, followed by an integrative discussion.

Results: The concept of AP is derived from 2 main traditions: operant and energy conservation. Although there are common elements across these traditions, significant conceptual and practical differences exist, which has led to confusion. Little empirical evidence exists concerning the efficacy of AP as a treatment for chronic pain.

Discussion: Future research on AP should be based on a clear theoretical foundation, consider the context in which the AP behavior occurs and the type of pacing problem ("underactivity" vs. "overactivity"), and should examine the impact of AP treatment on multiple clinical outcomes. We provide a provisional definition of AP and specific recommendations that we believe will move the field forward.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Avoidance Learning*
  • Chronic Pain / prevention & control*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / trends*
  • Forecasting*
  • Humans