Working memory and chronic pain

Working memory and chronic pain, is there evidence for dysfunction? A systematic review & meta-analysis.

Carolyn Berryman, Tasha R Stanton, K Jane Bowering, Abby Tabor, Alexander McFarlane, G Lorimer Moseley

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What is the problem you are trying to solve?

How cognitively impaired are people with chronic pain?

What is the hypothesis this study tested?

People with chronic pain perform differently from healthy controls on tests of cognitive function.

What was the conclusion?

People with chronic pain perform worse (overall moderate effect estimate) on working memory tasks than healthy controls.

What is the clinical relevance of the work?

Impairment in working memory will limit planning, mental flexibility and decision making; it will disrupt attention and thus impede the effectiveness of cognitive behavioural and ‘Explain Pain’ type interventions; it might hamper return to activities of daily living and disrupt problem solving responses to get out of pain.

Working Memory and Chronic Pain


  1. Gaylord Wardell says

    Chronic pain is a primary neuropathologic process caused by faulty inputs to one of evolutionary biology’s most powerful systems-the acute pain system. It seems intuitive that the restriction of working memory must have survival value in acute pain yet becomes a liability in chronic pain.I only suggest this because that is a pattern seen in chronic pain where pain becomes a liability no longer biologically useful. This is fascinating research and helps us understand that most pain patients have brains which are reacting normally to abnormal messages resulting in unhelpful behavior, much as the air traffic controller who makes mistakes when the approaching A380 on the wrong glidepath truns out to be a large flock of migrating Canada geese in th shape of a jumbo jrt.


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