, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 326-335

Contrasting emotional approach coping with passive coping for chronic myofascial pain

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Abstract

Passive or emotion-focused coping strategies are typically related to worse pain and adjustment among chronic pain patients. Emotional approach coping (EAC), however, is a type of emotion-focused coping that appears to be adaptive in some nonpain populations but has not yet been examined in a chronic pain population. In a sample of 80 patients (75% women, M = 48.67 years of age) with chronic myofascial pain, we contrasted how EAC (assessed with the Emotional Approach Coping Scale) and 5 passive pain-coping strategies (assessed with the Vanderbilt Multidimensional Pain Coping Inventory (VMPCI)) were related to sensory and affective pain, physical impairment, and depression. Passive coping strategies were positively correlated with one another, but EAC was inversely correlated with most of them. The VMPCI passive strategies were substantially positively related to negative affect, whereas EAC was inversely related to negative affect. Controlling for potentially confounding demographics, higher EAC was related to less affective pain and depression, even after controlling for negative affect. Using passive coping strategies, in contrast, was associated with more pain, impairment, and depression, although these relations were greatly attenuated after controlling for negative affect. When considered simultaneously, EAC, but not passive coping, was related to affective pain, and both EAC and passive coping were significant correlates of depression, although in opposite directions. In secondary analyses, we found that EAC was related to less pain (particularly sensory) among men and to less depression among women. Unlike the use of passive pain-coping strategies, which are associated with worse pain and adjustment, the use of EAC (emotional processing and emotional expression) with chronic pain is associated with less pain and depression. This suggests that some emotion-focused types of pain coping may be adaptive, and it highlights the need to assess emotional coping processes that are not confounded with distress or dysfunction.

This study is based on the doctoral dissertation of Dr. Julie Smith (now at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland Medical Center) under the direction of Dr. Mark Lumley.
We thank Drs. Stephen Paolucci, Charles Huston, and Richard Neuman for their assistance in patient recruitment, and Jason Nupp for his assistance in data collection.