Assessment of Stress-Related Psychophysiological Reactions in Chronic Back Pain Patients

Herta Flor, Dennis C. Turk, Niels Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The relationship of paraspinal electromyogram (EMG) reactivity to personally relevant and general stress was compared among chronic back pain patients (CBP), non-back-pain patients, and healthy controls. Subjects participated in a psychophysiological assessment that included four trials (discussions of personal stress and pain, mental arithmetic, and reciting the alphabet). Paraspinal and frontalis EMG, heart rate, and skin resistance were recorded continuously. Psychological variables (e.g., depression and perceived control) were also assessed. Results indicate that CBP patients display elevations and delayed return to baseline only in their paravertebral musculature and only when discussing personally relevant stress. Neither of the other groups displayed similar response patterns. Abnormal muscular reactivity was best predicted by depression and manner of coping with pain rather than by organic variables. These results suggest that the assessment of stress-related responses may be important in the evaluation and treatment of CBP.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-364
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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