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Psychological treatments for the management of postsurgical pain: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials

Authors Nicholls JL, Azam MA, Burns LC, Englesakis M, Sutherland AM, Weinrib AZ, Katz J, Clarke H

Received 24 June 2017

Accepted for publication 28 November 2017

Published 19 January 2018 Volume 2018:9 Pages 49—64

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/PROM.S121251

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Colin Mak

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Robert Howland


Judith L Nicholls,1 Muhammad A Azam,1,2 Lindsay C Burns,1,2 Marina Englesakis,3 Ainsley M Sutherland,1 Aliza Z Weinrib,1,2 Joel Katz,1,2,4 Hance Clarke1,4

1Pain Research Unit, Department of Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, Toronto General Hospital, 2Department of Psychology, York University, 3Library and Information Services, University Health Network, 4Department of Anesthesia, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

Background: Inadequately managed pain is a risk factor for chronic postsurgical pain (CPSP), a growing public health challenge. Multidisciplinary pain-management programs with psychological approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and mindfulness-based psychotherapy, have shown efficacy as treatments for chronic pain, and show promise as timely interventions in the pre/perioperative periods for the management of PSP. We reviewed the literature to identify randomized controlled trials evaluating the efficacy of these psychotherapy approaches on pain-related surgical outcomes.
Materials and methods: We searched Medline, Medline-In-Process, Embase and Embase Classic, and PsycInfo to identify studies meeting our search criteria. After title and abstract review, selected articles were rated for risk of bias.
Results: Six papers based on five trials (four back surgery, one cardiac surgery) met our inclusion criteria. Four papers employed CBT and two CBT-physiotherapy variant; no ACT or mindfulness-based studies were identified. Considerable heterogeneity was observed in the timing and delivery of psychological interventions and length of follow-up (1 week to 2–3 years). Whereas pain-intensity reporting varied widely, pain disability was reported using consistent methods across papers. The majority of papers (four of six) reported reduced pain intensity, and all relevant papers (five of five) found improvements in pain disability. General limitations included lack of large-scale data and difficulties with blinding.
Conclusion: This systematic review provides preliminary evidence that CBT-based psychological interventions reduce PSP intensity and disability. Future research should further clarify the efficacy and optimal delivery of CBT and newer psychological approaches to PSP.

Keywords: postsurgical pain, CBT, acute pain, chronic pain, chronic postsurgical pain, multidisciplinary pain management

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