Depression and suicidal ideation in high-performance athletes suffering from low back pain: The role of stress and pain-related thought suppression

Kerstin Konietzny*, Omar Chehadi, Claudia Levenig, Michael Kellmann, Jens Kleinert, Tobias Mierswa, Monika Hasenbring

*Corresponding author for this work

Publication: Contribution to journalJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


Background: Depression and suicidal ideation are important health problems in athletes suffering from pain. Dysfunctional pain cognitions, that is, pain-related thought suppression (PTS), may play an important role in their aetiology. Thought suppression was shown to increase depressive mood, particularly in highly stressed individuals. This cross-sectional study examines the relationship between PTS and stress on depression and suicidal ideation in athletes with pain. Methods: A total of 159 athletes with non-specific low back pain completed a set of questionnaires to measure PTS, depression and stress. Participants were split into groups with high and low stress, and high and low PTS. Two-way ANOVA calculated main effects for PTS, stress and a PTS*stress interaction, with depressive symptoms as dependent. Subsequently, distribution tests were calculated, investigating if the presence of clinically relevant depression and suicidal ideation is dependent of conditions of high/low PTS and stress. Results: A main effect of stress demonstrated higher depression scores in highly stressed athletes. Further, a significant PTS*stress interaction showed elevated depression scores in athletes with high PTS and high stress. Distribution analysis revealed positive associations between PTS, stress and depression, with depression being most frequent among athletes with high PTS and high stress. Suicidal ideation was not significantly associated with PTS and only weakly correlated with stress. Conclusions: Our findings show that PTS is the most common pain response in athletes with pain. The results indicate a higher prevalence of depression and elevated depressive symptoms in athletes experiencing high stress, seemingly more pronounced when highly engaging in PTS. Significance: This study contributes to the understanding of depression in athletes with pain, suggesting stress and pain-related thought suppression to increase symptoms and prevalence of depression. As athletes often experience acute or chronic pain, understanding the impact of pain cognitions on health outcomes is an important step in the optimization of treatments.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Pain
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1196-1208
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 07.2019


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