Can Chronic Pain Patients Manage Symptoms By Simply Participating In An Online Program?

Four out of five participants who used an available Web-based program made progress toward goals to reduce or eliminate pain or other unspecified medications.

While there are ways to manage chronic pain, patients suffering from it continue to look for ways to control symptoms more effectively. One option for them is to turn to Internet-based courses.

Washington State University researchers learned that online programs focusing on non-medical alternatives (increasing physical activity, thinking more positively and dealing with emotions) can assist patients with managing chronic pain, which in return reduces their reliance on opioids.

Lead study author Marian Wilson, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing, tracked a total of 43 participants with chronic non-cancer pain through an eight-week course. The Internet-based program used for the experiment, Goalistics Chronic Pain Management Program, which was designed by two psychologists who based their product on evidence-based pain strategies, enabled users to manage psychological, social and health issues associated chronic pain.

“When I was planning my dissertation I was looking for something that was specifically designed for chronic pain patients to help manage their symptoms,” Wilson told Clinical Pain Advisor in an interview. “This was the only program at that time I could find readily available online. Now there are a few others you may be able to find online but I am not sure how much their effectiveness has been tested with research.”

When Wilson’s team compared her findings to a similar-sized control group, they found that participants reported that they adopted more practices to change their negative thinking patterns into positive ones. They additionally reported the use relaxation techniques to help control pain.

“Patients on opioids are willing and able to learn non-drug methods to assist in their pain control,” Wilson said. “Due to the stigma attached to chronic pain patients, it is often assumed they only want a pill and are not receptive to other options that can help them take control and manage their pain more safely.”

Four out of five participants who used the available Web-based program made progress toward goals to reduce or eliminate pain or other unspecified medications.

After using the tool, several participants noted to Wilson that they would’ve liked to see more reminders and prompts to engage. “Ideally, providers will offer it as a tool and help patients engage in their pain self-management plan,” she said. 

“Reducing reliance on opioids is an important goal with what we now know about long-term opioid use for chronic pain,” she said. “Opioids may be necessary for some patients to preserve quality of life, I do not want to suggest patients should not have access to them, but they should be used in conjunction with other non-drug methods and never be considered as the sole solution for chronic pain.”


1. Wilson M, et al. ASPMN. 2015; doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2014.09.009.