Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 173–183 | Cite as

Executive Functions, Self-Regulation, and Chronic Pain: A Review

  • Lise Solberg Nes
  • Abbey R. Roach
  • Suzanne C. SegerstromEmail author
Original Article



Chronic pain conditions are complicated and challenging to live with. Capacity to adjust to such conditions may depend on the ability to self-regulate, that is, the ability to alter thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Self-regulation appears to rely on executive cognitive functions, and the current review, therefore, sought to draw attention to the impact of self-regulatory capacity and executive functions on chronic pain.


Chronic pain conditions present with complex interactions of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physiological components for which self-regulatory ability is crucial. The ability to self-regulate varies, and self-regulatory strength appears to be a limited resource that can be fatigued. The many challenges of chronic pain conditions could, therefore, tax self-regulatory strength, leading to self-regulatory deficits.


The current review proposes a relationship among pain, self-regulatory capacity, self-regulatory demands, executive functions, and self-regulatory fatigue, suggesting that executive functions and self-regulatory deficits are indeed part of the etiology and maintenance of chronic pain conditions.


Chronic pain Self-regulation Executive functions Self-regulatory capacity Self-regulatory fatigue 



The authors thank Charley R. Carlson, Leslie J. Crofford, and John Wilson for the helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lise Solberg Nes
    • 1
  • Abbey R. Roach
    • 1
  • Suzanne C. Segerstrom
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

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