Many patients’ chronic musculoskeletal pain is strongly influenced by central nervous system processes such as sensitization or amplification. Education about pain neuroscience can change patients’ beliefs but has less consistent effects on pain outcomes. Patients may have greater clinical benefits if the educational intervention is personalized, and they evaluate various psychosocial risk factors with respect to their pain. We developed and tested a brief, internet-based Pain Psychology and Neuroscience (PPN) self-evaluation intervention.
Materials and Methods:
From a patient registry, 104 adults reporting chronic musculoskeletal pain were randomized to the PPN intervention or a matched, active, education control condition. At baseline and 1-month (primary endpoint) and 10-month follow-ups, participants reported pain severity (primary outcome) and multiple secondary outcomes. Primary analyses compared the 2 experimental conditions using analyses of covariances; post hoc exploratory analyses compared the effects of PPN in subgroups of patients who met criteria for fibromyalgia (FM; n=50) or who did not (n=54; primarily spinal pain).
At 1-month follow-up, compared with the control condition, PPN led to significantly lower pain severity (ηp2=0.05) and interference (ηp2=0.04), greater brain (ηp2=0.07) and psychological (ηp2=0.07) attributions for pain, and greater readiness for pain self-management (ηp2=0.08). Effects on distress, pain catastrophizing, kinesiophobia, and life satisfaction were not significant. Exploratory analyses showed that the PPN intervention was especially beneficial for patients without FM but was of less benefit for those with FM. Most of the effects (except attributions) were lost at 10 months.
A brief PPN self-evaluation intervention, presented on-line, can yield short-term improvements in musculoskeletal pain severity and interference, especially for people with spinal/localized pain rather than FM, perhaps because the psychology/neuroscience perspective is more novel for such patients.