The Role of Executive Functioning in Understanding Chronic Pain Experiences in Adolescence: A Pilot Multi-Method Study



Caes L, Wallace E, Duncan C & Dick B (2022) The Role of Executive Functioning in Understanding Chronic Pain Experiences in Adolescence: A Pilot Multi-Method Study. Medical Research Archives, 10 (12).

Background: Optimal executive functioning is pivotal to successful self-management of chronic pain (e.g., by being able to adapt self-management behaviours to changing situations), thereby contributing to improved health-related quality of life. However, preliminary evidence points to impaired executive functioning in people with chronic pain. Despite adolescence being identified as a sensitive period for the development of appropriate self-management and executive functioning skills, little is known about the associations between chronic pain and executive functioning performance in adolescents. The aim of the study was to pilot a multi-method approach to compare executive functioning, chronic pain, and quality of life between adolescents with and without chronic pain. Methods: A sample of 22 adolescents with chronic pain (12-18 years, 82% female, mean chronic pain duration = 6.68 years) and 13 pain-free adolescents (age and sex matched) participated. All participants completed a battery of neuropsychological tasks to assess the three key executive functioning components (i.e., inhibition, working memory and cognitive flexibility) and provided self-report on their executive functioning, pain experiences and health-related quality of life. Results: In addition to confirming the feasibility of the methods, data revealed that 23-62% of adolescents with chronic pain showed problematic performance, using normative scoring, in all three executive functioning components and showed significantly lower performance on all three executive functioning components compared to pain-free adolescents. Self-reported, but not neuropsychologically assessed, working memory and emotional control difficulties were associated with more pain-related interference and lower health-related quality of life. Conclusion: These preliminary findings reveal the critical need to screen for and address any potential deficits in executive functioning in adolescents with chronic pain to optimise their self-management of pain and subsequent health-related quality of life. The findings also illustrate the feasibility of and need for future systematic, multi-method and prospective investigations in larger samples to further clarify the cyclical associations between chronic pain and executive functioning in adolescents.

adolescent; chronic pain; executive function; emotion regulation; quality of life

Medical Research Archives: Volume 10, Issue 12

FundersThe Royal Society of Edinburgh
Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online31/12/2022
Date accepted by journal15/11/2022
PublisherKnowledge Enterprise Journals

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Dr Line Caes

Dr Line Caes

Associate Professor, Psychology

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