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Doctor, I have chronic pain, are there any treatment options that would include my partner and be helpful to both of us?

Couple interventions (treatments that involve both the person with pain and their partner) may reduce pain intensity and improve coping skills.

What is the evidence?


Couple Interventions vs Individual Interventions or Standard Care for treatment of chronic pain

OutcomeReported that Couple Interventions were better 
Pain intensity20% of studies
Function, psychological well being40% of studies

What kind of study was this?

This was a systematic review of 18 randomized controlled studies published up to 2016.

Who? The studies included people with chronic pain and their partner (dating or married). Pain conditions included back pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer pain, and chronic headaches.

What? The studies compared Couple Interventions with Individual Interventions or Standard Care.

Couple Interventions


Individual Interventions or Standard Care

The studies used a variety of interventions:  

Psychoeducation: teaching about pain, thought-patterns, and behaviours that contribute to pain

Couples' relaxation or meditation skills

Coping skills: how to help the person with pain avoid negative emotions and pain-related behaviours; training the person with pain how to ask for help appropriately and their partner how to provide help when asked

Strategies to improve: communication, conflict resolution, problem-solving, goal-setting

The studies used a variety of interventions:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) - a type of talking therapy that teachs a person how to manage their pain by thinking and behaving in a more positive way

Acceptance and Commitment therapy - a type of talking therapy that focuses on accepting pain and identifying goals and behaviours to help the person with pain live their life

Standard Care: pain medications, physical therapy

Why was this research done?

Chronic pain has a negative impact not only on the people who are experiencing pain, but also on their partners. The reviewers were interested in whether involving partners in treatment of chronic pain is helpful. The interventions in the studies focused on helping couples manage negative emotions and improve coping skills. The results showed that pain intensity may not be reduced, but the general sense of well-being of the person with chronic pain, and their ability to function was improved with couple interventions. The authors don't know which of the many interventions that were tried worked best so more research is needed.

This Evidence Summary is based on the following article:

Smith SM, Li R, Wolfe H, et al. Couple Interventions for Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review. Clin J Pain. 2019 Nov;35(11):916-922. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000752. PubMed

Published: Thursday, December 31, 2020
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 13, 2021

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.