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inflammation, low back pain, perceived social support



  1. Saravanan, Anitha
  2. Bajaj, Prempreet
  3. Mathews, Herbert L.
  4. Tell, Dina
  5. Starkweather, Angela
  6. Janusek, Linda


Background: Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is a significant cause of disability, lost wages, and healthcare costs. Inflammatory mediators, such as interleukin-6 (IL-6), have been associated with LBP severity. Patients with CLBP commonly experience sleep disturbance, and poor sleep has been shown to increase pain severity and inflammation. In contrast, social support may benefit patients with CLBP by reducing pain intensity and inflammation.


Objectives: The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of social support on the relationships among sleep disturbance, inflammation, and pain severity in patients with CLBP.


Methods: In a cross-sectional study, men and women with CLBP were enrolled from an outpatient pain clinic. Participants completed psychometric instruments for social support, sleep quality, and pain severity. Blood samples were obtained for measurement of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-6 by enzyme-linked immunoassay.


Results: Linear regression revealed greater sleep disturbance predicted greater pain severity. In contrast, participants who reported higher social support had lower sleep disturbance and lower pain severity. Mediation analysis revealed sleep disturbance to mediate the relationship between social support and pain, such that sleep disturbance reduced the benefit of social support on pain severity. Furthermore, greater sleep disturbance and lower social support predicted increased IL-6. However, IL-6 did not mediate the relationship between social support and pain.


Discussion: The findings suggest that increased social support is associated with lower sleep disturbance, lower inflammation, and lower pain severity in patients with CLBP. Assessing the extent of social support and fostering social support as part of a comprehensive pain management program may benefit patients with CLBP. Interventions to strengthen social support systems and cultivate support from family and/or informal social networks may reduce symptom burden and improve quality of life.