RRS Education Chiropractic BLOG - Musculoskeletal Research Reviews

When a patient says they are experiencing ‘discomfort’, ‘pain’ or ‘stiffness’, do you know what they mean? Wouldn’t it be great if you were always on the ‘same page’ with your patient in terms of their description of their clinical condition?

In patient care, pain is often the main clinical outcome of concern to both clinicians and patients, although other outcomes such as discomfort and stiffness also make important contributions to patient functionality.  A clearer understanding of these specific outcomes may increase the precision of patient assessment and therefore treatment. 

Discomfort, despite being a commonly cited experience, has not been well defined in the literature.  A recent study defined it as “a negative physical and/or emotional state causing unpleasant feelings or sensations”.  Discomfort can be, but is not consistently, differentiated from pain.  Indeed, many studies measure pain and discomfort together or assess them on the same continuum. =

Stiffness is similar to discomfort in that it is not traditionally separated from pain.  Stiffness is challenging to conceptualize and has variously been described as both a subjective experience and a physical state, with the latter more easily defined as: resistance to a change in length.  

While clinicians may differentiate pain, discomfort, and stiffness, it is not known whether patients similarly differentiate among these concepts.  A disconnect between a clinician and their patient in this regard could lead to misunderstanding and adversely affect both diagnosis and treatment.  To address this, the authors explored patients’ perceptions of discomfort, pain, and stiffness to determine if and how they differentiate among the concepts. 

THIS WEEK'S RESEARCH REVIEW: “What Discomfort, Pain & Stiffness Mean to Patients”

This paper was published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders (2022) and this Review is posted in Recent Reviews, Clinical Practice, Pain - Biopsychosocial Model & Chronic Pain and the 2022 Archive.


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