Prognostic value of psychological testing in patients undergoing spinal cord stimulation: A prospective study

Richard B. North, David H. Kidd, Robert L. Wimberly, David Edwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Associations between psychological and physical states are understood to exist, and the development of standardized psychological tests has allowed quantitative evaluation of this relationship. We tested whether associations exist between psychological test instruments and patients selected for therapeutic trials of spinal cord stimulation (SCS) for chronic, intractable pain. METHODS: Fifty-eight patients selected for SCS were tested prospectively with a battery of standardized psychological tests: Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory with Wiggins content scales, Symptom Check List-90, and Derogatis Affects Balance Scale. Associations between treatment outcomes and preoperative test scores and clinical variables were tested by univariate and multivariate statistical analyses, in which the dependent variables were as follows: 1) the outcome of a therapeutic trial of stimulation (whether the patient derived sufficient reported pain relief with a temporary electrode to proceed with a permanent implant), and 2) long-term outcome of treatment with the permanent implant, as determined by disinterested third-party interview. RESULTS: Significant associations (P ≤ 0.01) were observed between the outcome of the therapeutic trial of stimulation and psychological test results; patients with low 'anxiety' scores on the Derogatis Affects Balance Scale and with high 'organic symptoms' scores on the Wiggins test were significantly more likely to proceed to permanent implants, as determined by multivariate statistical models. There was an elevation in the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory hypochondriasis scale in these patients by univariate (P = 0.02), but not by multivariate, models. The multivariate model also identified young age, reproduction of leg pain by straight leg raising, and bilateral leg pain as favorable prognostic factors. The only association with favorable long- term outcome of implantation of a permanent device, by univariate analysis, was an elevated 'joy' score on the Derogatis Affects Balance Scale. Multivariate analysis revealed no statistically significant predictors of long-term outcome. CONCLUSION: Because our study population was selected on the basis of recognized prognostic factors and long clinical experience, it may not be possible to generalize our findings to the overall pain clinic referral population. In the subpopulation we have chosen for SCS trials, psychological testing is of modest value and explains little of the observed variance in outcome. We find little evidence for selecting patients for SCS on the basis of psychological testing. Because self-reported outcome measures may themselves reflect the patient's psychological state, these findings should be considered carefully, in overall clinical context. A prospective study with additional objective outcome measures is underway, which will address some of these issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-311
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1996


  • Chronic pain
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Psychological testing
  • Spinal cord stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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