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SAGE Open Med


Associations between attachment and pain: From infant to adolescent.


Failo A, Giannotti M, Venuti P
SAGE Open Med. 2019; 7:2050312119877771.
PMID: 31555442.


Pain experience is a negative complex phenomenon influenced by several mechanisms. Attachment processes may affect the way in which individuals experience and signal pain. Hence, in the last two decades, the role of attachment quality has drawn attention in pain research and practice. However, previous reviews on this topic focused on adulthood and/or specific types or pain. We conducted a narrative review examining the association between attachment and different pain conditions from infancy to adolescence. Two independent researchers searched scientific databases for relevant papers. A total of 17 articles were included. Results highlight the following: (a) children and adolescents with chronic idiopathic pain showed low rates of attachment security compared to control groups; (b) pain conditions are consistently associated with elevated rates of at-risk pattern of attachment and information processing; and (c) the presence of unresolved trauma or loss is higher in children and adolescent who experienced pain compared to healthy controls. Despite the significance of these empirical evidences, the impact of caregiving environment and interpersonal context on pain experience in infancy and preschool age is poorly investigated compared to adulthood. Research on pain and attachment needs to be extended since the majority of the studies are limited to specific pain conditions. Future research should investigate the role of anxious attachment on procedural pain and transition from acute to chronic pain, testing new conceptual models. These findings shed light on the importance of relational factors and psychosocial vulnerabilities in pain clinical practice. An attachment-informed approach to pain will help health professionals to offer adequate support during procedures and to increase effectiveness of interventions. A developmental perspective is needed to integrate familial and relational contribution into a multimodal assessment and treatment of pain. Longitudinal studies are recommended.