Effects of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) treatment in chronic pain patients: a systematic review

Pain Med. 2014 Feb;15(2):247-63. doi: 10.1111/pme.12303. Epub 2013 Dec 5.


Objective: This study systematically reviewed the evidence regarding the effects of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for treating chronic pain.

Design: Systematic review.

Methods: We screened MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library, CINHAL Plus, Web of Science, PsycINFO, PSYNDEX, the Francine Shapiro Library, and citations of original studies and reviews. All studies using EMDR for treating chronic pain were eligible for inclusion in the present study. The main outcomes were pain intensity, disability, and negative mood (depression and anxiety). The effects were described as standardized mean differences.

Results: Two controlled trials with a total of 80 subjects and 10 observational studies with 116 subjects met the inclusion criteria. All of these studies assessed pain intensity. In addition, five studies measured disability, eight studies depression, and five studies anxiety. Controlled trials demonstrated significant improvements in pain intensity with high effect sizes (Hedges' g: -6.87 [95% confidence interval (CI95 ): -8.51, -5.23] and -1.12 [CI95 : -1.82, -0.42]). The pretreatment/posttreatment effect size calculations of the observational studies revealed that the effect sizes varied considerably, ranging from Hedges' g values of -0.24 (CI95 : -0.88, 0.40) to -5.86 (CI95 : -10.12, -1.60) for reductions in pain intensity, -0.34 (CI95 : -1.27, 0.59) to -3.69 (CI95 : -24.66, 17.28) for improvements in disability, -0.57 (CI95 : -1.47, 0.32) to -1.47 (CI95 : -3.18, 0.25) for improvements in depressive symptoms, and -0.59 (CI95 : -1.05, 0.13) to -1.10 (CI95 : -2.68, 0.48) for anxiety. Follow-up assessments showed maintained improvements. No adverse events were reported.

Conclusions: Although the results of our study suggest that EMDR may be a safe and promising treatment option in chronic pain conditions, the small number of high-quality studies leads to insufficient evidence for definite treatment recommendations.

Keywords: Chronic Pain; Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR); Systematic Review; Treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing*
  • Humans