Variability in negative emotions among individuals with chronic low back pain: relationships with pain and function

Pain. 2018 Feb;159(2):342-350. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001102.


Chronic pain is associated with elevated negative emotions, and resources needed to adaptively regulate these emotions can be depleted during prolonged pain. Studies of links between pain, function, and negative emotions in people with chronic pain, however, have focused almost exclusively on relationships among mean levels of these factors. Indexes that may reflect aspects of emotion regulation have typically not been analyzed. We propose that 1 index of emotion regulation is variability in emotion over time as opposed to average emotion over time. The sample was 105 people with chronic low back pain and 105 of their pain-free spouses. They completed electronic diary measures 5x/d for 14 consecutive days, producing 70 observations per person from which we derived estimates of within-subject variance in negative emotions. Location-scale models were used to simultaneously model predictors of both mean level and variance in patient negative emotions over time. Patients reported significantly more variability in negative emotions compared to their spouses. Patients who reported higher average levels of pain, pain interference, and downtime reported significantly higher levels of variability in negative emotions. Spouse-observed pain and pain behaviors were also associated with greater variability in patients' negative emotions. Test of the inverse associations between negative emotion level and variability in pain and function were significant but weaker in magnitude. These findings support the notion that chronic pain may erode negative emotion regulation resources, to the potential detriment of intra- and inter-personal function.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / etiology*
  • Aged
  • Chronic Pain / psychology
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Low Back Pain / complications*
  • Low Back Pain / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Spouses / psychology*
  • Young Adult