Chronic pain disability exaggeration/malingering and submaximal effort research

David A. Fishbain, Robert Cutler, Hubert L. Rosomoff, Renee Steele Rosomoff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Objective: This is the first review of chronic pain (CP) malingering/disease simulation research. The purpose of this review was to determine the prevalence of malingering within CP patients (CPPs); whether evidence exists that malingering can be detected within CPPs, and to suggest some avenues of research for this topic. Design: A computer and manual literature search produced 328 references related to malingering, disease simulation, dissimulation, symptom magnification syndrome, and submaximal effort. Of these, 68 related to one of these topics and to pain. The references were reviewed in detail, sorted into 12 topic areas, and placed into tabular form. These 12 topic areas addressed the following: existence of malingering within the CP setting; dissimulation, identification simulated (faked) facial expressions of pain; identification of malingering by questionnaire; identification of malingered sensory impairment; identification of malingered loss of hand grip strength; identification of submaximal effort by isometric strength testing; identification of submaximal or malingered effort by isokinetic strength testing; identification of submaximal or malingered effort by the method of coefficient of variation; self-deception; symptom magnification syndrome; and miscellaneous malingering identification studies. Each report, in each topic area, was rated for scientific quality according to guidelines developed by the Agency for Health Care, Policy and Research (AHCPR) for rating the level of evidence presented in the reviewed study. The AHCPR guidelines were then used to rate the strength and consistency of the research evidence in each topic area based on the type of evidence the reports represented. All review conclusions were based on the results of these ratings. Setting: Any medical setting reporting on either malingering or disease simulation, or dissimulation, or submaximal effort and pain. Patients: Normal volunteers, CPPs, or any group asked to produce a submaximal or malingered effort or a malingered test profile. Results: The reviewed studies indicated that malingering and dissimulation do occur within the CP setting. Malingering may be present in 1.25-10.4% of CPPs. However, because of poor study quality, these prevalence percentages are not reliable. The study evidence also indicated that malingering cannot be reliably identified by facial expression testing, questionnaire, sensory testing, or clinical examination. There was no acceptable scientific information on symptom magnification syndrome. Hand grip testing using the Jamar dynamometer and other types of isometric strength testing did not reliably discriminate between a submaximal/malingering effort and a maximal/best effort. However, isokinetic strength testing appeared to have potential for discriminating between maximal and submaximal effort and between best and malingered efforts. Repetitive testing with the coefficient of variation was not a reliable method for discriminating a real/best effort from a malingered effort. Conclusions: Current data on the prevalence of malingering within CPPs is not consistent, and no conclusions can be drawn from these data. As yet, there is no reliable method for detecting malingering within CPPs, although isokinetic testing shows promise. Claims by professionals that such a determination can be made should be viewed with caution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)244-274
Number of pages31
JournalClinical Journal of Pain
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 1999


  • Chronic pain patients
  • Coefficient of variation.
  • Disease simulation
  • Effort
  • Facial expression pain
  • Forced sensory testing
  • Hand grip strength testing
  • Isokinetic strength testing
  • Isometric strength testing
  • Jamar dynamometer
  • Malingering
  • Malingering questionnaires
  • Pain
  • Prevalence
  • Repetitive testing
  • Symptom magnification syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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