Pain, cognition and disability in advanced multiple sclerosis

Rogier J. Scherder, Angela J. Prins, Marit J. van Dorp, Chris van Klaveren, Ilja Cornelisz, Joep Killestein, Henry Weinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: In patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), a relationship between physical disability and pain has been observed. In addition a relationship between physical disability and cognition in MS has been suggested. However, cognitive functions and pain appear not to be correlated in MS patients. Therefore, we examined whether a possible relationship between pain and cognitive functioning may exist, and if so, if such a relationship is mediated by physical disability. Methods: Forty-five MS patients with chronic pain, and in an advanced stage of the disease were included. Physical disabilities were assessed by the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS). Episodic memory was assessed by means of the Eight Words test, and Face and Picture Recognition. Executive functions (EF) were examined by Digit Span Backward for working memory, and the Rule Shift Cards and Category Fluency test for cognitive flexibility. Pain Intensity and Pain Affect were assessed by means of visual analogue scales and one verbal pain scale and mood (depression, anxiety) by the Beck Depression Inventory and the Symptom Check List (SCL-90). The research questions were analyzed by means of regression analyses and the Sobel test for mediation. Results: A significant relationship was found between Pain Affect and EF, but that relationship was not mediated by physical disabilities (EDSS). In addition, Pain Intensity and EF showed a significant relationship but only in combination with physical disabilities (EDSS). Finally, mood was related to pain affect. Discussion: The findings suggest that the lower the EF, exclusively or in combination with more physical disabilities, the more the patient may suffer from pain. Implications: The more one is cognitively and physically impaired, the more one might suffer from pain, and, the less one is able to communicate pain. The latter could put MS patients at risk for underdiagnosing and undertreatment of pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)754-765
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Early online date2 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • anxiety
  • chronic pain
  • depression
  • executive functions
  • mood
  • multiple sclerosis
  • physical disability
  • regression analyses
  • visual analogue scales
  • working memory

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