A test of the fear avoidance model to predict chronic pain outcomes in a polytrauma sample

Cindy McGeary, Paul Nabity, David Reed, Briana Cobos, Blessen Eapen, Mary Jo Pugh, Carlos Jaramillo, Jennifer Potter, Timothy Houle, Stacey Young-Mccaughan, Alan Peterson, Don McGeary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Chronic musculoskeletal pain is a complex problem, particularly for individuals with head injury and comorbid psychiatric conditions. The Fear Avoidance Model offers one of the strongest opportunities to conceptualize comorbid traumatic injury and pain, but this model is largely untested. OBJECTIVE: This study tests the Fear Avoidance Model of chronic pain using a sample from a study of polytrauma patients in a large Department of Veterans Affairs facility who participated in a federally-funded study of interdisciplinary chronic pain management. METHODS: The present study comprises a secondary analysis of 93 veterans with chronic pain, head injury, posttraumatic stress symptoms and a history of persistent opioid use. Standardized measures of Fear Avoidance Model risk factors (e.g., pain catastrophizing, fear avoidance beliefs, anxiety, depression) were examined as cross-sectional predictors of pain-related disability. RESULTS: Secondary data analysis revealed that Fear Avoidance Model factors accounted for almost 40% of the variance in pain-related disability, with pain catastrophizing and depression demonstrating the strongest relationships with disability. A summary variable combining all four factors revealed a 6% increase in disability for each factor that was clinically significant for the sample patients. CONCLUSIONS: This study represents the first attempt to examine a complex, theoretical model of pain in a comorbid pain and TBI sample. Findings revealed a strong relationship between this model and pain-related disability that outperforms pain intensity ratings. This model could be used to guide better treatment for comorbid pain and TBI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-43
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020


  • Polytrauma
  • chronic pain
  • fear avoidance
  • prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Clinical Neurology


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