This prospective study of acute and sub-acute low back pain (LBP) patients was conducted with the aim of assessing whether attentional biases predicted chronic pain status 3 and 6 months later. The attentional biases of 100 LBP patients were assessed within 3months of developing pain and 6months later. Participants also completed measures associated with outcome at 3 assessment points: baseline, 3 and 6months later. Current pain status was assessed at follow-ups. Patients were classified as those that met standard criteria for chronic pain or those who did not (i.e., the comparison group). At baseline, participants showed a bias toward sensory pain words. However, biases toward sensory pain words did not differentiate those who subsequently developed chronic pain and those who did not at either follow-up. The same bias was observed 6months later, but again it did not distinguish between the chronic pain and comparison groups. However, subjects who developed chronic pain at both 3 (n=22) and 6 (n=21) months demonstrated biases away from affective pain words at baseline but not 6months later, in comparison to other participants. These results remained significant in multivariate analyses. These findings are consistent with patterns observed in the previous research, and suggest that avoidance of emotionally laden pain-related stimuli (i.e., affective pain words) has an association with negative outcomes for LBP patients in the acute and sub-acute phase.
This research indicates that attentional biases in relation to pain-related stimuli are important for the development of chronic pain, but are more complex than initially thought.