Although research on non-surgical treatments for neck pain (NP) is progressing, there remains uncertainty about the efficacy of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for this population. Addressing cognitive and behavioural factors might reduce the clinical burden and the costs of NP in society.
To assess the effects of CBT among individuals with subacute and chronic NP. Specifically, the following comparisons were investigated: (1) cognitive-behavioural therapy versus placebo, no treatment, or waiting list controls; (2) cognitive-behavioural therapy versus other types of interventions; (3) cognitive-behavioural therapy in addition to another intervention (e.g. physiotherapy) versus the other intervention alone.
We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, SCOPUS, Web of Science, and PubMed, as well as ClinicalTrials.gov and the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform up to November 2014. Reference lists and citations of identified trials and relevant systematic reviews were screened.
We included randomised controlled trials that assessed the use of CBT in adults with subacute and chronic NP.
Two review authors independently assessed the risk of bias in each study and extracted the data. If sufficient homogeneity existed among studies in the pre-defined comparisons, a meta-analysis was performed. We determined the quality of the evidence for each comparison with the GRADE approach.
We included 10 randomised trials (836 participants) in this review. Four trials (40%) had low risk of bias, the remaining 60% of trials had a high risk of bias.The quality of the evidence for the effects of CBT on patients with chronic NP was from very low to moderate. There was low quality evidence that CBT was better than no treatment for improving pain (standard mean difference (SMD) -0.58, 95% confidence interval (CI) -1.01 to -0.16), disability (SMD -0.61, 95% CI -1.21 to -0.01), and quality of life (SMD -0.93, 95% CI -1.54 to -0.31) at short-term follow-up, while there was from very low to low quality evidence of no effect on various psychological indicators at short-term follow-up. Both at short- and intermediate-term follow-up, CBT did not affect pain (SMD -0.06, 95% CI -0.33 to 0.21, low quality, at short-term follow-up; MD -0.89, 95% CI -2.73 to 0.94, low quality, at intermediate-term follow-up) or disability (SMD -0.10, 95% CI -0.40 to 0.20, moderate quality, at short-term follow-up; SMD -0.24, 95% CI-0.54 to 0.07, moderate quality, at intermediate-term follow-up) compared to other types of interventions. There was moderate quality evidence that CBT was better than other interventions for improving kinesiophobia at intermediate-term follow-up (SMD -0.39, 95% CI -0.69 to -0.08, I(2) = 0%). Finally, there was very low quality evidence that CBT in addition to another intervention did not differ from the other intervention alone in terms of effect on pain (SMD -0.36, 95% CI -0.73 to 0.02) and disability (SMD -0.10, 95% CI -0.56 to 0.36) at short-term follow-up.For patients with subacute NP, there was low quality evidence that CBT was better than other interventions at reducing pain at short-term follow-up (SMD -0.24, 95% CI -0.48 to 0.00), while no difference was found in terms of effect on disability (SMD -0.12, 95% CI -0.36 to 0.12) and kinesiophobia.None of the included studies reported on adverse effects.
With regard to chronic neck pain, CBT was found to be statistically significantly more effective for short-term pain reduction only when compared to no treatment, but these effects could not be considered clinically meaningful. When comparing both CBT to other types of interventions and CBT in addition to another intervention to the other intervention alone, no differences were found. For patients with subacute NP, CBT was significantly better than other types of interventions at reducing pain at short-term follow-up, while no difference was found for disability and kinesiophobia. Further research is recommended to investigate the long-term benefits and risks of CBT including for the different subgroups of subjects with NP.