Scarce evidence that chronic pain treatments work

August 15, 2000

Whether most methods of treating chronic pain actually help the patient is unclear. Because they are without a scientific foundation, it is often difficult for doctors to decide on a particular kind of treatment because of a lack of information. An epidemiological study carried out in the Netherlands states that.

A representative survey by Maastricht University in collaboration with Amsterdam Vrije Universiteit with financial support from NWO's Council for Medical and Health Research.shows that some 18% of the Dutch population suffer from chronic pain (pain which lasts longer than six months). Among the most frequent problems are lower back pain, (tension) headaches and abdominal pain as a result of irritable bowel syndrome. Neck and shoulder pain, fibromyalgia and stump or phantom limb pain also count as symptoms without a clear cause, and they can therefore not be treated as specifically as other types of pain. The patients involved therefore constantly find themselves going back to their family doctor, specialist or physiotherapist.

The NWO project involved almost 5000 doctors and other health care workers. Analysis of the data collected shows that chronic pain is treated in a large number of different ways, with the family doctor playing a key role. He refers pain patients to other care providers, often various different ones, who are unable to help them and so refer them back to the family doctor again.

Study of the literature shows that the scientific basis for most of the methods of treating pain which are used in the Netherlands is inadequate. On the other hand, there is also no proof that a certain treatment is ineffective. The conclusion is that not enough research has gone into studying the effects of treatments for pain, and when research has in fact been done the results are contradictory. The lack of a proper survey of the various studies of the effects may be one of the reasons for the great variety of treatment methods used for chronic pain.
Further information:
Mariëlle Kroese (Maastricht University)
T 31-43-388-23-74
F 31-43-350-39-00


Dr Riekie de Vet (Amsterdam Vrije Universiteit)
T +31-20-444-81-76
F +31-20-444-81-81

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

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