Chronic Back Pain Impairs Decision Making

September 8th, 2008

Scientific evidence supports the hypothesis that chronic pain impairs an individual’s decision-making capability. As part of one study, investigators compared 26 healthy people with 26 patients with chronic back pain (CBP) and 12 patients with a condition called chronic complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). CRPS is a chronic nerve disorder typically afflicting the arms or legs, which usually onsets following an injury.

The study participants were asked to perform a test researchers use to assess emotional decision-making. The test, called the Iowa Gambling Task, is a gambling card game. Subjects with CBP performed 41% worse than did pain-free individuals. Those with CRPS performed even poorer.

The study’s authors conclude that “our evidence indicates that chronic pain is associated with a specific cognitive deficit, which may impact everyday behavior especially in risky, emotionally laden, situations.”
Pain -“ March 2004; 108:129-36.