Print Return

Doctor, should I join a peer support group or a professionally led support group on Facebook?

Participating in chronic pain support groups on Facebook may be helpful for reducing pain, and how much pain interferes in daily living for some people. This study did not show there was a difference between Facebook groups led by a professional and Facebook groups led by peers.

What is the evidence?


Chronic Pain Support Groups on Facebook: Professional-led vs Peer-led

Outcome at 1 monthEffect
Pain severityImproved by a medium amount over time; no difference between professional and peer-led groups
Pain interference (how much pain interferes with daily living)Improved by a large amount over time; no difference between professional and peer-led groups
DepressionImproved by a small to medium amount over time; no difference between professional and peer-led groups
AnxietyDid not improve over time; no difference between professional and peer-led groups

What kind of study was this?

This was a randomized controlled trial (RCT).

Who? This study included 119 adults (average age 35 years; 85% female) with chronic pain (for a minimum of 3 months) who had an active Facebook account and checked Facebook at least 3 times per week. The majority of people were living in the USA, White, employed, had a partner, and an average of 4 years of college education. Pain conditions included headaches, migraines, back pain, fibromyalgia, and arthritis. People who had a terminal illness (e.g., cancer) or reported having serious mental illness were excluded.

What? The study compared Professional-led Facebook Chronic Pain Support group with Peer-led Facebook Chronic Pain Support group.

Professional-led Facebook Group


Peer-led Facebook Group

By Invitation only Facebook group of 28 to 32 participants that remained open for 1 month.

Professionals posted training materials or comments nearly every morning. 

The training materials included reading material and videos that discussed Causes of Pain, Emotional Validation (how to show understanding of another person's emotional or physical experience), Emotional Disclosure (how to tell your pain story) and Overcoming Avoidance (education about the benefits of physical activity and movement).

Participants were also encouraged to post questions, comments, and general thoughts.

By Invitation only Facebook group of 28 to 32 participants that remained open for 1 month.

Investigator led the introduction but then let the group run themselves.

Participants were encouraged to post questions, comments, and general thoughts.

Why was this research done?

Interacting with other people who also have chronic pain may provide emotional support, introduce new strategies for coping with pain, and reduce how much suffering from pain interferes with daily living. Social media like Facebook provide opportunities for people with chronic pain to find and interact with others with the same health problems.

The researchers wanted to know if having a Chronic Pain Facebook Support group led by a Professional was better than a Chronic Pain Facebook Support group led by Peers for reducing pain severity and pain interference. They found that both types of groups reduced pain over time, and over half of the participants learned new ways to manage their pain.

Concerns about this study include the small group sizes and lack of a control group (a group that didn't use Facebook). The peer population on Facebook (largely female, white, employed, well educated) is not representative of all people who suffer from chronic pain.

Important lessons researchers learned from this study were: anonymous websites might be better for people who don't want their name shared with the group and having groups of people with the same specific pain condition may be more helpful than groups with many different pain conditions brought together.

This Evidence Summary is based on the following article:

Pester BD, Tankha H, Cano A, et al. Facing Pain Together: A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effects of Facebook Support Groups on Adults With Chronic Pain. J Pain. 2022 Dec;23(12):2121-2134. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2022.07.013. Epub 2022 Sep 9. PubMed

Published: Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Please note that the information contained herein is not to be interpreted as an alternative to medical advice from a professional healthcare provider. If you have any questions about any medical matter, you should consult your professional healthcare providers, and should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice or discontinue medication based on information provided here.