A 2015 article published in the journal PAIN reported on two studies that provided a new perspective on two aspects of chronic pain: overactivity behavior and activity pacing. Overactivity behavior is a common term in chronic pain research, referring to bursts of physical activity that significantly worsen a person’s pain and disability. Activity pacing is a strategy for pain management that health care professionals can use to help patients break this cycle of self-destructive behavior.1

The studies used two investigational techniques — qualitative research and interpretative phenomenological analysis — to gain insight into the causes and impact of overactivity behavior and the value of activity pacing as a management strategy. The studies involved multiple interviews with 16 patients over a number of months.1

“Qualitative research generates non-numerical data,” said Nicole Andrews, senior occupational therapist at Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in Queensland, Australia, and lead author of the studies. “Interpretative phenomenological analysis is an approach to qualitative research that is concerned with exploring and understanding the lived experience of a particular phenomenon. We used interpretative phenomenological analysis in our studies to gain an understanding of the lived experience of individuals with chronic pain who are habitually overactive.”

What the Research Found

The studies are rich in insights from the lives of the participants. Most who suffered from overactivity felt that their tendency to be overactive preceded their chronic pain. They saw themselves as hard working and successful, and feared being perceived as lazy. They found it hard to ask for help. They had tendencies toward perfectionism and obsessiveness. They lacked acceptance and flexibility.1