Chronic pain is strongly correlated with poorer performance on tests that measure thinking speed, working memory, learning and other abilities such as attention, according to data presented at the 2014 American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine
Researchers believe that neurocognitive tests can be used to determine which cognitive functions are most disrupted by chronic pain.
“And also for pain physicians, it’s relevant to know when you’re treating chronic pain patients that certain cognitive functions could be impaired or weakened, particularly given the emphasis on cognitive-behavioral therapy and teaching coping skills to manage pain.”
They conducted a meta-analysis of 21 studies
The team found that neurocognitive test results were consistently worse in patients with chronic pain than in controls.
Chronic pain patients scored much lower on the sustained attention and working memory subscales of the Test of Everyday Attention (TEA) than people without chronic pain—an average of 0.77 and 0.92 standard deviations, respectively.
The investigators performed a secondary analysis on eight studies that included estimates of patients’ IQs before they developed chronic pain, and found that chronic pain was associated with lower neurocognitive test scores
The investigators also discovered that all 10 published studies on gray matter volume in chronic pain patients showed reduced proportions of this brain tissue.
“But the issue is complex, because psychopathology and sleep disorders can predispose patients to chronic pain, and by themselves can cause cognitive dysfunction and loss of gray matter,”