Psychological therapies delivered remotely for the management of chronic pain (excluding headache) in adults

Benjamin Rosser, Emma Fisher, Sadia Janjua, Christopher Eccleston, Edmund Keogh, Geoffrey B. Duggan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Citations (SciVal)

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Chronic pain (pain lasting three months or more) is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage. Common types (excluding headache) include back pain, fibromyalgia, and neuropathic pain. Access to traditional face-to-face therapies can be restricted by healthcare resources, geography, and cost. Remote technology-based delivery of psychological therapies has the potential to overcome treatment barriers. However, their therapeutic effectiveness compared to traditional delivery methods requires further investigation. OBJECTIVES: To determine the benefits and harms of remotely-delivered psychological therapies compared to active control, waiting list, or treatment as usual for the management of chronic pain in adults. SEARCH METHODS: We searched for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, and PsycINFO to 29 June 2022. We also searched clinical trials registers and reference lists. We conducted a citation search of included trials to identify any further eligible trials. SELECTION CRITERIA: We included RCTs in adults (≥ 18 years old) with chronic pain. Interventions included psychological therapies with recognisable psychotherapeutic content or based on psychological theory. Trials had to have delivered therapy remote from the therapist (e.g. Internet, smartphone application) and involve no more than 30% contact time with a clinician. Comparators included treatment as usual (including waiting-list controls) and active controls (e.g. education). DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used standard Cochrane methodological procedures. MAIN RESULTS: We included 32 trials (4924 participants) in the analyses. Twenty-five studies delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to participants, and seven delivered acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Participants had back pain, musculoskeletal pain, opioid-treated chronic pain, mixed chronic pain, hip or knee osteoarthritis, spinal cord injury, fibromyalgia, provoked vestibulodynia, or rheumatoid arthritis. We assessed 25 studies as having an unclear or high risk of bias for selective reporting. However, across studies overall, risk of bias was generally low. We downgraded evidence certainty for primary outcomes for inconsistency, imprecision, and study limitations. Certainty of evidence ranged from moderate to very low. Adverse events were inadequately reported or recorded across studies. We report results only for studies in CBT here. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) versus treatment as usual (TAU) Pain intensity Immediately after treatment, CBT likely demonstrates a small beneficial effect compared to TAU (standardised mean difference (SMD) -0.28, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.39 to -0.16; 20 studies, 3206 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). Participants receiving CBT are probably more likely to achieve a 30% improvement in pain intensity compared to TAU (23% versus 11%; risk ratio (RR) 2.15, 95% CI 1.62 to 2.85; 5 studies, 1347 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). They may also be more likely to achieve a 50% improvement in pain intensity (6% versus 2%; RR 2.31, 95% CI 1.14 to 4.66; 4 studies, 1229 participants), but the evidence is of low certainty. At follow-up, there is likely little to no difference in pain intensity between CBT and TAU (SMD -0.04, 95% CI -0.17 to 0.09; 8 studies, 959 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). The evidence comparing CBT to TAU on achieving a 30% improvement in pain is very uncertain (40% versus 24%; RR 1.70, 95% CI 0.82 to 3.53; 1 study, 69 participants). No evidence was available regarding a 50% improvement in pain. Functional disability Immediately after treatment, CBT may demonstrate a small beneficial improvement compared to TAU (SMD -0.38, 95% CI -0.53 to -0.22; 14 studies, 2672 participants; low-certainty evidence). At follow-up, there is likely little to no difference between treatments (SMD -0.05, 95% CI -0.23 to 0.14; 3 studies, 461 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). Quality of life Immediately after treatment, CBT may not have resulted in a beneficial effect on quality of life compared to TAU, but the evidence is very uncertain (SMD -0.16, 95% CI -0.43 to 0.11; 7 studies, 1423 participants). There is likely little to no difference between CBT and TAU on quality of life at follow-up (SMD -0.16, 95% CI -0.37 to 0.05; 3 studies, 352 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). Adverse events Immediately after treatment, evidence about the number of people experiencing adverse events is very uncertain (34% in TAU versus 6% in CBT; RR 6.00, 95% CI 2.2 to 16.40; 1 study, 140 participants). No evidence was available at follow-up. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) versus active control Pain intensity Immediately after treatment, CBT likely demonstrates a small beneficial effect compared to active control (SMD -0.28, 95% CI -0.52 to -0.04; 3 studies, 261 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). The evidence at follow-up is very uncertain (mean difference (MD) 0.50, 95% CI -0.30 to 1.30; 1 study, 127 participants). No evidence was available for a 30% or 50% pain intensity improvement. Functional disability Immediately after treatment, there may be little to no difference between CBT and active control on functional disability (SMD -0.26, 95% CI -0.55 to 0.02; 2 studies, 189 participants; low-certainty evidence). The evidence at follow-up is very uncertain (MD 3.40, 95% CI -1.15 to 7.95; 1 study, 127 participants). Quality of life Immediately after treatment, there is likely little to no difference in CBT and active control (SMD -0.22, 95% CI -1.11 to 0.66; 3 studies, 261 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). The evidence at follow-up is very uncertain (MD 0.00, 95% CI -0.06 to 0.06; 1 study, 127 participants). Adverse events Immediately after treatment, the evidence comparing CBT to active control is very uncertain (2% versus 0%; RR 3.23, 95% CI 0.13 to 77.84; 1 study, 135 participants). No evidence was available at follow-up. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Currently, evidence about remotely-delivered psychological therapies is largely limited to Internet-based delivery of CBT. We found evidence that remotely-delivered CBT has small benefits for pain intensity (moderate certainty) and functional disability (moderate to low certainty) in adults experiencing chronic pain. Benefits were not maintained at follow-up. Our appraisal of quality of life and adverse events outcomes post-treatment were limited by study numbers, evidence certainty, or both. We found limited research (mostly low to very low certainty) exploring other psychological therapies (i.e. ACT). More high-quality studies are needed to assess the broad translatability of psychological therapies to remote delivery, the different delivery technologies, treatment longevity, comparison with active control, and adverse events.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD013863
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Volume2023
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2023

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