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A systematic review of smartphone applications for chronic pain available for download in the United States

Lorraine S. Wallace, PhD, Lara K. Dhingra, PhD


Objective: A Smartphone app could be useful in aiding patients in self-monitoring and self-managing their chronic pain-related symptoms. The purpose of this study was to systematically review English-language pain-related Smartphone apps available for download in the United States.

Design: During July 2012, official Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone Smartphone app platform stores were searched. “Pain” was entered into the search-bar of each Smartphone app store. Of the pain apps meeting inclusion criteria, the following were retrieved: release date, download cost (US dollars [US $], file size, documentation of a healthcare professional’s (HCP) involvement in app development, primary purpose of the app (pain education, pain self-management, or a combination of pain education and self-management), targeted pain-related condition(s), and inclusion of features that addressed four common self-monitoring and/or management strategies.

Results: Of the 220 apps meeting inclusion criteria, the majority were available through the iPhone (80.0 percent). The cost for downloading each app ranged from US $0.00 to 89.99; however, the majority of apps were US $4.99. There was no evidence of HCP involvement in the development of the majority of apps (65.0 percent). Chronic, nonspecific pain was the focus of half (50.5 percent) of the apps, followed by back and/or neck pain (25.9 percent). The primary purpose of the apps was categorized as follows: pain education (n = 53, 24.1 percent), pain self-management (n = 137, 62.3 percent), and both pain education and self-management (n = 30, 13.6 percent).

Conclusion: Overall, most of the pain-related apps included within our review not only lacked evidence of HCP input regarding development but also contained few evidence-based pain management features.


smartphone applications, mobile health (mHealth), pain management, systematic review

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