Importance: Pacing is a key pain management strategy used by occupational therapy practitioners when working with people with chronic pain. However, there is a paucity of evidence and a lack of consensus regarding the effectiveness of pacing as a pain management strategy for people with chronic pain.
Objective: To evaluate the evidence for the effectiveness of pacing as a learned strategy for people with chronic pain.
Data Sources: Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines were used to undertake a systematic review. Six databases were searched in March 2016 for randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Combinations of keywords and MeSH terms were used as search terms.
Study Selection and Data Collection: We sought intervention studies that included participants using pacing as a strategy. Studies were assessed for eligibility on the basis of predetermined criteria. Of the 2,820 articles located, 7 RCTs met inclusion criteria.
Findings: Pacing does not reduce the severity of pain or alter psychological traits; however, it can assist in lessening joint stiffness and the interference of fatigue and in decreasing the variability of physical activity.
Conclusions and Relevance: Current evidence supports the delivery of a learned pacing intervention to reduce the interference of fatigue, reduce joint stiffness, and decrease physical activity variability but does not support the use of learned pacing to reduce pain severity. Future research should investigate the effectiveness of pacing as a pain management strategy within the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health domains of activity and participation.
What This Article Adds: This systematic review examines existing research on pacing as a learned intervention strategy. The findings will support the clinical reasoning of occupational therapy practitioners, to determine when a learned pacing strategy is indicated, and considerations for how it may be delivered.