Effect of chronic nonmalignant pain on highway driving performance

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Abstract

Most pain patients are treated in an outpatient setting and are engaged in daily activities including driving. Since several studies showed that cognitive functioning may be impaired in chronic nonmalignant pain, the question arises whether or not chronic nonmalignant pain affects driving performance. Therefore, the objective of the present study was to determine the effects of chronic nonmalignant pain on actual highway driving performance during normal traffic. Fourteen patients with chronic nonmalignant pain and 14 healthy controls, matched on age, educational level, and driving experience, participated in the study. Participants performed a standardized on-the-road driving test during normal traffic, on a primary highway. The primary parameter of the driving test is the Standard Deviation of Lateral Position (SDLP). In addition, driving-related skills (tracking, divided attention, and memory) were examined in the laboratory. Subjective assessments, such as pain intensity, and subjective driving quality, were rated on visual analogue scales. The results demonstrated that a subset of chronic nonmalignant pain patients had SDLPs that were higher than the matched healthy controls, indicating worse highway driving performance. Overall, there was a statistically significant difference in highway driving performance between the groups. Further, chronic nonmalignant pain patients rated their subjective driving quality to be normal, although their ratings were significantly lower than those of the healthy controls. No significant effects were found on the laboratory tests.

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