Exploring patients’ opinions of activity pacing and a new activity pacing questionnaire for chronic pain and/or fatigue: a qualitative study.

Despite the frequent recommendation of activity pacing as a coping strategy for patients with chronic pain and/or fatigue, pacing is interpreted in different ways and there is an absence of a widely accepted pacing scale. We have developed a new Activity Pacing Questionnaire (APQ). The aims of this study were to explore patients’ views and beliefs about the concept of pacing, together with the acceptability of the APQ. Qualitative pragmatic study using semi-structured telephone interviews. Data were analysed using Framework analysis. 16 adult patients attending secondary care physiotherapy out-patient departments were recruited via purposive sampling. Diagnoses included chronic low back pain, chronic widespread pain, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis. Pacing emerged as a multifaceted concept from participants’ descriptions. The implementation of pacing was influenced by participants’ age, the presence of co-morbidities and participants’ emotions. The APQ was found to be generally acceptable in comparison to two existing pacing subscales. Participants undertook activities using quota/symptom-contingent approaches. Four behavioural typologies emerged: Task avoidance, Task persistence, Task fluctuation (boom-bust) and Task modification (activity pacing).

The APQ appears to be easy to complete, and acceptable to patients who are attending physiotherapy for the management of long-term conditions. It emerged that individual patients implemented different pacing facets to varying degrees, and that different behavioural typologies were apparent. The relationships between behavioural typologies and facets of pacing warrant further investigation to facilitate the development of effective tailored pacing interventions.