Background: Measures of unhelpful thoughts and distress correlate with the intensity of pain and the magnitude of incapability among people seeking musculoskeletal specialty care. In this evolving knowledge area, we want to be sure we have not neglected other important mental health factors. This study addressed how measures of confidence in problem solving as well as past and current ability to achieve goals account for variation in symptoms and capability independent of unhelpful thoughts and distress.
Questions/purposes: (1) Are measures of confidence in problem solving ability and past and current ability to achieve goals regarding future outcomes associated with variation in capability, independent of measures of symptoms of depression and anxiety (distress) and measures of unhelpful thoughts (worst-case thinking, negative pain thoughts)? (2) Are these measures independently associated with variation in pain intensity? (3) Are these measures associated with measures of symptoms of depression, symptoms of anxiety, and unhelpful thoughts?
Methods: Over a 7-month period during the pandemic, we enrolled sporadically from the offices of four surgeons treating patients who sought care for various upper and lower extremity conditions. We invited approximately 200 adult new and returning patients to participate (the number of invitations was not formally tracked) and 187 accepted. Thirty-one were excluded due to markedly incomplete entries (related to a problematic attempt to use the patient's cell phone to complete questionnaires as a pandemic work around), leaving 156 for analysis. Patients completed an 11-point ordinal rating of pain intensity, two measures of unhelpful thoughts (the Pain Catastrophizing Scale and the Negative Pain Thoughts Questionnaire), the Adult Hope Scale to measure past and current ability to achieve goals, the Personal Optimism and Self-Efficacy Optimism Scale to measure confidence in problem solving ability, the Patient-reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) computer adaptive test to measure symptoms of anxiety, the PROMIS computer adaptive test to measure symptoms of depression, and the PROMIS physical function computer adaptive test to assess the magnitude of capability. All questionnaires were validated in previous studies. We used bivariate analyses to identify factors associated with magnitude of capability, pain intensity, confidence in problem solving ability, and past and current ability to achieve goals. All factors with a p value of less than 0.1 were included in multivariable analyses to seek associations between these measures accounting for confounders. We reported partial η2 as a measure of effect size for all multivariable regression models. The following rules of thumb are used to interpret values for partial η2: a value of 0.01 = small, 0.06 = medium, and values of 0.14 and higher show large effect size.
Results: Greater capability was modestly associated with fewer negative pain thoughts (β = -0.63 [95% CI -1.0 to -0.22]; standard error = 0.20; partial η2 = 0.06; p = 0.003) and no self-reported comorbidities (β = 2.6 [95% CI 0.02 to 5.3]; standard error = 1.3; partial η2 = 0.03; p = 0.048) after controlling for education, symptoms of depression and anxiety, worst-case thinking, as well as past and current ability to achieve goals. In a similar multivariable model, greater pain intensity was modestly associated with greater worst-case thinking (β = 0.33 [95% CI 0.20 to 0.45]; standard error = 0.06; partial η2 = 0.16; p < 0.001) and established patients (β = -1.1 [95% CI -1.8 to -0.31]; standard error = 0.38; partial η2 = 0.05; p = 0.006). In another similar multivariable model, having more confidence in problem solving ability had a limited association with higher ratings of past and current ability to achieve goals (β = 0.15 [95% CI 0.09 to 0.21]; standard error = 0.03; partial η2 = 0.13; p < 0.001). In a final multivariable model, lower past and current ability to achieve goals was independently associated with having greater symptoms of depression (β = -0.45 [95% CI -0.67 to -0.23]; standard error = 0.11; partial η2 = 0.1; p < 0.001) and more negative pain thoughts (β = -0.49 [95% CI -0.89 to -0.09]; standard error = 0.20; partial η2 = 0.04; p = 0.02).
Conclusion: The observation that unhelpful thoughts about symptoms are more strongly associated with symptom intensity than past and current ability to achieve goals and confidence in problem solving ability add to the evidence that attentiveness to unhelpful thinking is an important aspect of musculoskeletal health. Musculoskeletal specialists can prioritize communication strategies such as relationship building and motivational interviewing that develop trust and facilitate reorientation of common unhelpful thoughts.
Level of evidence: Level II, prognostic study.
Copyright © 2021 by the Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons.