Background: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) affect adult mental health and tend to contribute to greater symptoms of depression and more frequent suicide attempts. Given the relationship between symptoms of depression and patient-reported outcomes (PROs), adversity in childhood might be associated with PROs in patients seeking care for musculoskeletal problems, but it is not clear whether in fact there is such an association among patients seeking care in an outpatient, upper extremity orthopaedic practice.
Questions/purposes: (1) Are ACE scores independently associated with variation in physical limitations measured among patients seen by an orthopaedic surgeon? (2) Are ACE scores independently associated with variations in pain intensity? (3) What factors are associated with ACE scores when treated as a continuous variable or as a categorical variable?
Methods: We prospectively enrolled 143 adult patients visiting one of seven participating orthopaedic surgeons at three private and one academic orthopaedic surgery offices in a large urban area. We recorded their demographics and measured ACEs (using a validated 10-item binary questionnaire that measured physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in the first 18 years of life), magnitude of physical limitations, pain intensity, symptoms of depression, catastrophic thinking, and health anxiety. There were 143 patients with a mean age of 51 years, 62 (43%) of whom were men. In addition, 112 (78%) presented with a specific diagnosis and most (n = 79 [55%]) had upper extremity symptoms. We created one logistic and three linear regression models to test whether age, gender, race, marital status, having children, level of education, work status, insurance type, comorbidities, body mass index, smoking, site of symptoms, type of diagnosis, symptoms of depression, catastrophic thinking, and health anxiety were independently associated with (1) the magnitude of limitations; (2) pain intensity; (3) ACE scores on the continuum; and (4) ACE scores categorized (< 3 or ≥ 3). We calculated a priori that to detect a medium effect size with 90% statistical power and α set at 0.05, a sample of 136 patients was needed for a regression with five predictors if ACEs would account for ≥ 5% of the variability in physical function, and our complete model would account for 15% of the overall variability. To account for 5% incomplete responses, we enrolled 143 patients.
Results: We found no association between ACE scores and the magnitude of physical limitations measured by Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System Physical Function (p = 0.67; adjusted R = 0.55). ACE scores were not independently associated with pain intensity (Pearson correlation [r] = 0.11; p = 0.18). Greater ACE scores were independently associated with diagnosed mental comorbidities both when analyzed on the continuum (regression coefficient [β] = 1.1; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.32-1.9; standard error [SE] 0.41; p = 0.006) and categorized (odds ratio [OR], 3.3; 95% CI, 1.2-9.2; SE 1.7; p = 0.024), but not with greater levels of health anxiety (OR, 1.1; 95% CI, 0.90-1.3; SE 0.096; p = 0.44, C statistic = 0.71), symptoms of depression (ACE < 3 mean ± SD = 0.73 ± 1.4; ACE ≥ 3 = 1.0 ± 1.4; p = 0.29) or catastrophic thinking (ACE < 3 = 3.6 ± 3.5; ACE ≥ 3 = 4.9 ± 5.1; p = 0.88).
Conclusions: ACEs may not contribute to greater pain intensity or magnitude of physical limitations unless they are accompanied by greater health anxiety or less effective coping strategies. Adverse events can contribute to anxiety and depression, but perhaps they sometimes lead to development of resilience and effective coping strategies. Future research might address whether ACEs affect symptoms and limitations in younger adult patients and patients with more severe musculoskeletal pathology such as major traumatic injuries.
Level of evidence: Level II, prognostic study.