Beyond solicitousness: a scoping review on informal pain-related social support


  • S. Bernardes
  • P. Forgeron
  • K. Fournier
  • J. Reszel


Background: Individuals with chronic pain (ICPs) cite social support (SS) as an important resource. The research has mostly focused on general SS or pain-specific solicitousness, resulting in a narrow understanding of the role of SS in pain experiences. Drawing on SS theoretical models, this review aimed to understand: (1) how pain-related SS has been conceptualized and measured, and (2) how the relationship between pain SS and pain experiences has been investigated. Methods: Arksey and O´Malley’s scoping review framework guided the study. A search was conducted in PsycINFO, CINAHL, MEDLINE, EMBASE using a combination of subject headings/keywords, from 2000 to 2015; 3864 citations were screened; 101 full texts were assessed for eligibility; references of 52 included papers were hand searched (which resulted in one additional study). Fifty-three studies were included. Findings: Most studies were either a-theoretical or drew on the operant conditioning model. There are currently several self-report measures and observational systems to operationalize pain-related SS. However, the Multidimensional Pain Inventory remains the most often used, accounting for the fact that the most examined SS concept was solicitousness regardless if it was received (83.01%), provided (20.75%), or observed (5.66%). Most studies investigated the main effect of SS on pain outcomes (79.25%), and only a minority investigated the role of pain SS as a buffer or mediator. Discussion: The role of SS for ICP has primarily been examined from the concept of solicitousness. A more robust theoretical understanding of SS is needed to design SS interventions to improve outcomes for ICPs.