Catastrophising osteoarthritis pain leads to less exercise

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How people think about pain influences whether they get enough exercise and kick starts a harmful cycle of avoidance of activity that worsens catastrophising about pain the following day, says new US research.

Pain catastrophising is when someone feels exaggerated helplessness or hopelessness about their pain.

Chronic pain is a big problem around the world; over 43% of people in the UK are affected. Physical activity plays a key role in pain management, but the situation is complicated.

New research

In a new study, a total of 143 older adults with knee osteoarthritis were asked to keep daily diaries and wear accelerometers (to measure physical activity) for 22 days. Each morning, the participants reported how they felt about their pain that day and the accelerometer gathered information on physical activity.

When people catastrophised about pain in the morning, they engaged in less moderate to vigorous physical activity later that day and spent more time being sedentary that day and the next day. It’s a vicious circle as being sedentary then led to increased pain catastrophising the following day.

“How patients think about their pain, rather than the level of experienced pain, had a more powerful impact on their daily physical activity,” explains Dr Ruixue Zhaoyang, one of the researchers. “Reducing daily pain catastrophizing may help older patients to be more active and less sedentary on a daily basis. This could help improve their chronic pain condition, physical function, and overall health, and reduce the possibility of hospitalization, institutionalization, and healthcare costs in the long-term.”

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