Background and aims A sizable body of research has elucidated the significant role of psychological reactions to trauma on pain coping and outcomes. In order to best inform intervention development and clinical care for patients with both trauma and pain at the tertiary care level, greater clarity is needed regarding the magnitude of these effects and the specific pathways through which they may or may not function at the time of first presentation to such a treatment setting. To achieve this, the current study examined the cross-sectional relationships between traumatic etiology of pain, psychological distress (anger, depressive symptoms, and PTSD symptoms), and pain outcomes (pain catastrophizing, physical function, disability status). Methods Using a structural path modeling approach, analyses were conducted using a large sample of individuals with chronic pain (n = 637) seeking new medical evaluation at a tertiary pain management center, using the Collaborative Health Outcomes Information Registry (CHOIR). We hypothesized that the relationships between traumatic etiology of pain and poorer pain outcomes would be mediated by higher levels of psychological distress. Results Our analyses revealed modest relationships between self-reported traumatic etiology of pain and pain catastrophizing, physical function, and disability status. In comparison, there were stronger relationships between indices of psychological distress and pain catastrophizing, but a weaker pattern of associations between psychological distress and physical function and disability measures. Conclusions To the relatively small extent that self-reported traumatic etiology of pain correlates with pain-related outcomes, these relationships appear to be due primarily to the presence of psychiatric symptoms and manifest most notably in the context of psychological responses to pain (i.e. catastrophizing about pain). Implications Findings from this study highlight the need for early intervention for patients with traumatic onset of pain and for clinicians at tertiary pain centers to include more detailed assessments of psychological distress and trauma as a component of comprehensive chronic pain treatment.
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