Executive functioning in pediatric chronic pain: Do deficits exist?

Karen E. Weiss, Cynthia Harbeck-Weber, Michael J. Zaccariello, Jacqueline N. Kimondo, Tracy E. Harrison, Barbara K. Bruce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objective. Despite ample research documenting deficits in executive functioning for adults with chronic pain, the literature on pediatric patients with chronic pain is limited and provides mixed results. The current study sought to further investigate the nature of executive dysfunction in this population and also examine the relationships between pain intensity, duration, and catastrophizing with sustained attention, working memory, and self- and parent-report of executive functioning. Settings. Pediatric pain clinic and rehabilitation program. Participants. Forty adolescents with chronic pain and their parents participated in this study. Methods. Participants completed neuropsychological measures and standardized self-report questionnaires during a 45- to 60-minute testing session. Results. Fifty percent of this sample of adolescents with chronic pain demonstrated significant difficulties on at least one measure, with nine participants indicating difficulties on multiple measures. Pain significantly increased during the testing session. Pain variables of intensity, duration, and catastrophizing are related to sustained attention and working memory. Conclusions. This study adds support to previous findings suggesting subclinical struggles with executive functioning for adolescents with chronic pain. One-half of the sample indicated difficulties in either sustained attention and/or working memory. Future studies that would more thoroughly examine more complex executive functioning skills in this population would be helpful to further guide multidisciplinary treatment of these patients, particularly regarding whether or not school accommodations are warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberpnx020
Pages (from-to)60-67
Number of pages8
JournalPain Medicine (United States)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Adolescents
  • Attention
  • Cognition
  • Pain
  • Pediatric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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