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Predicting the occurrence of headache and back pain in young adults by biopsychological characteristics assessed at childhood or adolescence

Authors Kröner-Herwig B, Gorbunova A, Maas J

Received 12 November 2016

Accepted for publication 14 February 2017

Published 28 March 2017 Volume 2017:8 Pages 31—39


Checked for plagiarism Yes

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Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Professor Alastair Sutcliffe

Birgit Kröner-Herwig, Anastasia Gorbunova, Jennifer Maas

Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, Georg-Elias-Müller-Institute of Psychology, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany

Abstract: The aim of the current study was to identify predictors of recurrent headache and back pain in young adults (aged 18–27 years) from data assessed in childhood or adolescence, i.e., 9 years before the final survey. Our interest was whether psychological characteristics contribute to the risk of pain prevalence in adult age when controlling for already empirically supported risk factors such as parental pain, pediatric pain and sex. The study was part of a five-wave epidemiological investigation of >5000 families with children aged between 7 and 14 years when addressed first. In a multiple hierarchical regression analysis, the abovementioned three variables (Block-I variables) were entered first followed by five psychological trait variables (Block-II variables: internalizing, anxiety sensitivity, somatosensory amplification, catastrophizing and dysfunctional stress coping) to find out the extent of model improvement. The multivariable hierarchical regression analysis confirmed the hypothesis that the Block-I variables significantly enhance the risk of future pain at young adult age. None of the psychological variables did so. Thus, the hypothesis of a significant surplus predictive effect was not confirmed. The amount of total explained variance differed strongly between headache and back pain. In particular, a valid prediction of back pain was not possible. When analyzed separately in simple regression analysis, psychological variables turned out to be significant predictors, however, of very low effect size. The inclusion of Block-I variables in the model clearly reduced the impact of the psychological variables. This risk profile is discussed in the context of the different trajectories of headache and back pain from childhood to adult age, which were proposed by various studies. We propose that a biopsychological characteristic denoted as emotional negativity, especially regarding self-reference, might be a common factor behind all selected variables. Risk research in recurrent pain is a field where much more multidisciplinary research is needed before progress can be expected.

Keywords: headache, back pain, prediction of adult pain, risk factors, biopsychological interaction

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