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Facing Pain Together: A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effects of Facebook Support Groups on Adults With Chronic Pain

Published:September 08, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2022.07.013

      Highlights

      • Adults with chronic pain benefited from Facebook support groups.
      • The benefits of participating in a Facebook group persisted at 1-month follow-up.
      • Over 80% of participants were satisfied, with little evidence of adverse effects.
      • Professional-led and standard Facebook peer support groups led to similar outcomes.
      • This RCT supports the use of Facebook groups as an accessible tool for chronic pain.

      Abstract

      Despite the popularity and affordances of social media groups for people with chronic conditions, there have been few controlled tests of the effects of these groups. This randomized controlled superiority trial examined the effects of Facebook groups on pain-related outcomes and tested whether a professional-led group leads to greater effects than a support group alone. We randomly assigned 119 adults with chronic pain to one of two Facebook group conditions: a standard condition (n = 60) in which participants were instructed to offer mutual support, or a professional-led condition (n = 59) in which the investigators disseminated empirically-supported, socially-oriented psychological interventions. Four groups were run (2 standard, 2 professional-led), each lasting 4 weeks and containing approximately 30 participants. Measures were administered at baseline, post-intervention, and 1-month follow-up. Across conditions, participants improved significantly in primary outcomes (pain severity and interference; medium-large effects) and a secondary outcome (depressive symptoms; small-medium effect), and they retained their outcomes 1 month after the groups ended. The 2 conditions did not differ on improvements. Overall, this study supports the use of social media groups as an additional tool to improve chronic pain-related outcomes. Our findings suggest that professional intervention may not have added value in these groups and that peer support alone may be driving improvements. Alternatively, the psychosocial intervention components used in the current study might have been ineffective, or more therapist direction may be warranted. Future research should examine when and how such guidance could enhance outcomes.

      Perspective

      Findings from this randomized trial support the use of both standard and professional-led Facebook groups as an accessible tool to enhance the lives of adults with chronic pain. This article provides direction for how to improve social media groups to optimize outcomes and satisfaction for more users.

      Key words

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