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Psychological therapies delivered via the Internet for adults with longstanding distressing pain and disability

Eccleston C, Fisher E, Craig L, Duggan GB, Rosser BA, Keogh E
Published Online: 
26 February 2014

Chronic pain (i.e. pain lasting longer than three months) is common. Psychological therapies (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy) can help people to cope with pain, depression and disability that can occur with such pain. Treatments currently are delivered via hospital out-patient consultation (face-to-face) or more recently through the Internet. This review looks at the evidence for psychological therapies delivered via the Internet for adults with chronic pain.

Four databases were searched up to November 2013. We found 15 trials that met our inclusion criteria. Four trials included individuals with headache pain, 10 trials included individuals with non-headache pain, and one trial included individuals with both headache and non-headache pain. We looked at data about pain, disability, depression, and anxiety immediately after the end of treatment and between 3 to 12 months follow-up. We also looked at how satisfied people were with the treatments, and its effects on their quality of life.

We found that for people with headache pain, pain symptoms and disability scores improved immediately following the end of treatment. However, only two trials could be entered into each of these analyses and so findings should be treated with caution. For people with non-headache pain, pain, disability, depression, and anxiety improved immediately after the end of treatment. Disability was also improved at follow-up. Only one study recorded quality of life scores in individuals with headache pain, so we were unable to analyse the results. Three studies presented quality of life scores for individuals with non-headache pain immediately following treatment. We did not find that quality of life improved after receiving the therapy. No data could be analysed on treatment satisfaction/acceptability.

We conclude that these findings are promising for psychological treatments delivered via the Internet for the management of chronic pain in adults, but more trials are needed to determine the efficacy of such therapies.