The acquisition of fear of movement-related pain and associative learning: A novel pain-relevant human fear conditioning paradigm

A. Meulders, D. Vansteenwegen, J.W.S. Vlaeyen

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62 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Current fear-avoidance models consider fear of pain as a key factor in the development of chronic musculoskeletal pain. Generally, the idea is that by virtue of the formation of associations or acquired propositional knowledge about the relation between neutral movements and pain, these movements may signal pain, and hence start to elicit defensive fear responses (eg, avoidance behavior). This assumption has never been investigated experimentally. Therefore, we developed a pain-relevant fear conditioning paradigm using a movement as a conditioned stimulus (CS) and a painful electrocutaneous stimulus as an unconditioned stimulus (US) to examine the acquisition of fear of movement-related pain in healthy subjects. In a within-subjects design, participants manipulated a joystick to the left/right in the experimental (predictable) condition, and upward/downward in the control (unpredictable) condition or vice versa. In the predictable condition, one movement direction (CS+), and not the other (CS-), was followed by painful stimuli. In the unpredictable condition, painful stimuli were always delivered during the inter-trial interval. Both fear of movement-related pain ratings and eyeblink startle measures were more elevated in response to the CS+ than to the CS-, whereas no differences occurred between both unreinforced CSs in the control condition. Participants were slower initiating a CS+ movement than a CS- movement, while response latencies to CSs in the control condition did not differ. These data support the acquisition of fear of movement-related pain by associative learning. Results are discussed in the broader context of the acquisition of pain-related fear in patients with musculoskeletal pain. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2460-2469
Number of pages10
JournalPain
Volume152
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011

Keywords

  • Acquisition
  • Associative learning
  • Fear of movement-related pain
  • Fear of pain
  • Fear-avoidance model
  • LOW-BACK-PAIN
  • MUSCULOSKELETAL PAIN
  • MUSCULAR RESPONSES
  • AVOIDANCE MODEL
  • DISABILITY
  • UNPREDICTABILITY
  • PERFORMANCE
  • ACTIVATION
  • PATTERNS
  • STIMULI

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