Goals matter: Both achievement and pain-avoidance goals are associated with pain severity and disability in patients with low back and upper extremity pain

P.A. Karsdorp*, J.W.S. Vlaeyen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


It has been proposed that goal pursuit plays a role in the development of chronic pain disorders. On the basis of (affective) motivational theories, it was hypothesized that both long-term achievement goals and short-term hedonic goals would be related to increased levels of pain and disability, particularly in patients with high negative affect. Participants with musculoskeletal pain complaints (N = 299) completed a battery of questionnaires including a novel goal pursuit questionnaire (GPQ) measuring the extent to which participants preferred hedonic goals (mood-management or pain-avoidance goals) over achievement goals in various situations. Explorative factor analysis of the GPQ resulted in a reliable pain-avoidance (alpha = .88) and mood-management subscale (alpha = .76). A nonlinear, U-shaped relationship was found among the pain-avoidance scale (but not the mood-management scale) and pain and disability. This indicated that participants who strongly endorsed either achievement or pain-avoidance goals also reported higher pain and disability levels while controlling for biographical variables and pain catastrophizing. For pain but not disability, these relationships were only found among patients with high negative affect. For disability, goal pursuit and negative affect were independently related to disability. These findings provide support for the validity of an affective-motivational approach to chronic pain, suggesting that the experience of pain and the interference of pain on daily life activities depends on goal pursuit and negative affect. Interventions aimed at improving disability in chronic pain should address both patient's goal pursuit and negative affect. Crown Copyright (C) 2011 Published by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of International Association for the Study of Pain. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1382-1390
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011

Cite this