|Rehab Clinician (OT/PT)|
BACKGROUND: Persistent (chronic) pain is a frequent complaint in survivors of torture, particularly but not exclusively pain in the musculoskeletal system. Torture survivors may have no access to health care; where they do, they may not be recognised when they present, and the care available often falls short of their needs. There is a tendency in state and non-governmental organisations' services to focus on mental health, with poor understanding of persistent pain, while survivors may have many other legal, welfare, and social problems that take precedence over health care.
OBJECTIVES: To assess the efficacy of interventions for treating persistent pain and associated problems in survivors of torture.
SEARCH METHODS: We searched for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) published in any language in CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, Web of Science, CINAHL, LILACS, and PsycINFO, from database inception to 1 February 2017. We also searched trials registers and grey literature databases.
SELECTION CRITERIA: RCTs of interventions of any type (medical, physical, psychological) compared with any alternative intervention or no intervention, and with a pain outcome. Studies needed to have at least 10 participants in each arm for inclusion.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We identified 3578 titles in total after deduplication; we selected 24 full papers to assess for eligibility. We requested data from two completed trials without published results.We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. We assessed risk of bias and extracted data. We calculated standardised mean difference (SMD) and effect sizes with 95% confidence intervals (CI). We assessed the evidence using GRADE and created a 'Summary of findings' table.
MAIN RESULTS: Three small published studies (88 participants) met the inclusion criteria, but one had been retracted from publication because of ethical problems concerned with confidentiality and financial irregularities. Since these did not affect the data, the study was retained in this review. Despite the search including any intervention, only two types were represented in the eligible studies: two trials used cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with biofeedback versus waiting list on unspecified persistent pain (58 participants completed treatment), and one examined the effect of complex manual therapy versus self-treatment on low back pain (30 participants completed treatment). Excluded studies were largely either not RCTs or did not report pain as an outcome.There was no difference for the outcome of pain relief at the end of treatment between CBT and waiting list (two trials, 58 participants; SMD -0.05, 95% CI -1.23 to 1.12) (very low quality evidence); one of these reported a three-month follow-up with no difference between intervention and comparison (28 participants; SMD -0.03, 95% CI -0.28 to 0.23) (very low quality evidence). The manual therapy trial also reported no difference between complex manual therapy and self-treatment (30 participants; SMD -0.48, 95% CI -9.95 to 0.35) (very low quality evidence). Two studies reported dropouts, one with partial information on reasons; none of the studies reported adverse effects.There was no information from any study on the outcomes of use of analgesics or quality of life.Reduction in disability showed no difference at the end of treatment between CBT and waiting list (two trials, 57 participants; SMD -0.39, 95% CI -1.17 to 0.39) (very low quality evidence); one of these reported a three-month follow-up with no difference between intervention and comparison (28 participants; SMD 0, 95% CI -0.74 to 0.74) (very low quality evidence). The manual therapy trial reported superiority of complex manual therapy over self-treatment for reducing disability (30 participants; SMD -1.10, 95% CI - 1.88 to -0.33) (very low quality evidence).Reduction in distress showed no difference at the end of treatment between CBT and waiting list (two trials, 58 participants; SMD 0.07, 95% CI -0.46 to 0.60) (very low quality evidence); one of these reported a three-month follow-up with no difference between intervention and comparison (28 participants; SMD -0.24, 95% CI -0.50 to 0.99) (very low quality evidence). The manual therapy trial reported superiority of complex manual therapy over self-treatment for reducing distress (30 participants; SMD -1.26, 95% CI - 2.06 to -0.47) (very low quality evidence).The risk of bias was considered high given the small number of trials, small size of trials, and the likelihood that each was underpowered for the comparisons it reported. We primarily downgraded the quality of the evidence due to small numbers in trials, lack of intention-to-treat analyses, high unaccounted dropout, lack of detail on study methods, and CIs around effect sizes that included no effect, benefit, and harm.
AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is insufficient evidence to support or refute the use of any intervention for persistent pain in survivors of torture.
The results of this review point to the need for health professionals to be more sensitive to the need to address physical pain in torture survivors as well as the need to determine effective interventions.
As a physiotherapist, working with clients experiencing homelessness as well as clients identifying as refugees, I often note how physical/emotional trauma can cause chronic pain. It is good to see some research being done in this area.
The Cochrane review on interventions for treating persistent pain in survivors of torture is important in realising the importance that besides psychological "pain" the physical pain should not be overlooked. I do not know if and how many OT's work with survivors of torture, but those who do should take the physical component seriously in account both in reports to the treating organisation as in enabling occupation. However, as the reviewers stated, more research is needed on working interventions. We can add that awareness is also needed to take the whole system (physical, psychological, social etc) into account when dealing with survivors of torture.
This review highlights the difficulties in relying on narrow inclusion criteria. This is a complex and highly disadvantaged population and some of the numerous studies besides the three small RCTs that are considered in the review are likely to provide important insights. Other study types besides RCTs are not necessarily at high risk of bias. Perhaps it is time to reconsider either the Cochrane Methodology or restrict the topics that are considered to those where the review methodology itself does not create an unacceptable level of bias.
This topic is not typically addressed in clinical training programs. Therefore, it is an important and useful reference should such a patient seek care.