The research interests of Karen E. Weiss, Ph.D., L.P., include factors that are related to disability in pediatric pain and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Dr. Weiss is also interested in treatment outcomes of the pediatric program at Mayo Clinic's Pain Rehabilitation Center. Finally, she is investigating behavioral changes parents make during the program and how these changes might be related to changes their children make in the program.
- Pain-related disability in pediatric chronic pain. Chronic pain is best conceptualized as a bio-psycho-social disorder; that is, there are many factors that play a role in the development and maintenance of chronic pain, including injury, viruses, medicines, sleep, eating, stress, depression, anxiety and family factors. Dr. Weiss is currently investigating how these factors play a role in pain-related disability and how changes in these variables contribute to positive treatment outcomes.
- Acceptance of pain. Dr. Weiss has published research investigating the role of acceptance of pain on treatment outcomes. She also looks at whether changes in parents' acceptance of their children's pain is related to progress in the pediatric pain rehabilitation program.
- Cognitive functioning of adolescents with chronic pain. Dr. Weiss recently completed a project investigating cognitive functioning of adolescents with chronic pain. Interestingly, despite participants' reports of significant difficulties with attention and concentration since pain onset, the study did not demonstrate deficits on any objective neuropsychological measures of working memory or sustained attention. The results suggest that teens with chronic pain can function well in school despite perceived difficulties with cognitive functioning.
- Eating disorders in chronic pain. Dr. Weiss is collaborating with Leslie A. Sim, Ph.D., L.P., an expert on eating disorders, to examine the prevalence of eating disorders in teens with chronic pain and POTS. Thus far, approximately 15 to 20 percent of teens and young adults who enter the pediatric pain rehabilitation program indicate a level of disordered eating, for which they are referred to Dr. Sim for consultation.
- Parents' functioning and behaviors. In her clinical practice, Dr. Weiss works extensively with parents to help them make changes to support their children's pain management programs. These changes include taking the focus off pain and symptoms and putting it on goals, values and living life. She is currently measuring parents' functioning and behaviors before and after participation in the pediatric pain rehabilitation program to examine whether these changes are related to treatment outcomes.
Significance to patient care
Dr. Weiss' research suggests that acceptance of pain is an important variable to consider when conceptualizing and treating chronic pain. In one of her recently published studies, acceptance of pain was shown to be related to positive changes in overall functioning for adolescents who participated in the pediatric pain rehabilitation program. Acceptance of pain does not mean giving up. Rather, it involves letting go of trying to find a way to "fix" the pain and instead focusing on having a productive and meaningful life even if one continues to struggle with pain.
- Young Investigator Research Award, Pain in Infants, Children, and Adolescents Shared Interest Group, American Pain Society, 2014
- Reviewer, Journal of Adolescent Health, 2014; Journal of Pain Research, 2014; Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2014; Health Psychology journal, 2013