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How do psychologically based interventions for chronic musculoskeletal pain work? A systematic review and meta-analysis of specific moderators and mediators of treatment

Journal Contribution - Review Article

Psychologically based interventions aim to improve pain-related functioning by targeting pain-related fears, cognitions and behaviors. Mediation and moderation analyses permit further examination of the effect of treatment on an outcome. This systematic review and meta-analysis aims to synthetize the evidence of specific mediators and moderators (i.e., treatment targets) of psychologically based treatment effects on pain and disability. A total of 28 mediation and 11 moderation analyses were included. Thirteen mediation studies were included in a meta-analysis, and the rest was narratively synthetized. Reductions in pain-related fear (indirect effect [IE]: -0.07; 95% confidence interval [CI]: -0.11, -0.04) and catastrophizing (IE: -0.07; 95%CI: -0.14, -0.00), as well as increases in self-efficacy (IE: -0.07; 95%CI: -0.11, -0.04), mediated effects of cognitive behavioral therapy on disability but not on pain intensity, when compared to control treatments. Enhancing pain acceptance (IE: -0.17; 95%CI: -0.31, -0.03) and psychological flexibility (IE: -0.30; 95%CI: -0.41, -0.18) mediated acceptance and commitment therapy effects on disability. The narrative synthesis showed conflicting evidence, which did not support a robust moderated effect for any of the examined constructs. Overall, the methodological quality regarding mediation was low, and some key pitfalls are highlighted alongside recommendations to provide a platform for future research.
ISSN: 1873-7811
Volume: 94