For citation purposes: Gerhardt A, Eich W, Seidler G, Tesarz J. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing in chronic pain conditions. OA Musculoskeletal Medicine 2013 Apr 01;1(1):7.

Critical review


Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing in chronic pain conditions

A Gerhardt, W Eich, G Seidler, J Tesarz

Authors affiliations

(1) Department of General Internal Medicine and Psychosomatics, Medical Hospital, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany

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Chronic pain is prevalent and associated with a high disease burden. However, current treatments for chronic pain provide insufficient relief. Therefore, the exploration of new treatment methods is warranted. Originally, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) developed as a treatment approach for post-traumatic symptoms (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder), and it now shows promising results in the treatment of chronic pain conditions. This paper is a critical review of pertinent articles concerned with the feasibility and usefulness of EMDR in the treatment of chronic pain.

Materials and Methods

Articles on EMDR were retrieved selectively by searching the literature regularly. This review summarises the findings from EMDR studies conducted for the treatment of chronic pain and also extracts potential theories that may explain the reason why EMDR is a promising treatment for chronic pain conditions. In this review, findings and theories regarding the use of EMDR have been discussed, and the implications for research have been derived.


Early reports show that EMDR either significantly reduces the intensity of pain or even completely eliminates chronic pain in various pain conditions, including phantom limb pain, fibromyalgia and migraine. Several underlying mechanisms are discussed, including the Adaptive Information Processing model and neurobiological mechanisms.


The early findings should be interpreted carefully because they are based on reports with methodological limitations. These include the use of small sample sizes, heterogeneous samples and missing control groups that are discussed in this critical review. Moreover, some of the challenging questions remain unexplained, such as the focus of EMDR treatment, its dose-response relationship and its safety. It is also observed that not all patients respond to the EMDR treatment, which makes it essential to identify appropriate subgroups of chronic pain patients.


There is early evidence that EMDR treatment is successful in reducing chronic pain, but further research is required to account for the limitations of the findings observed in this critical review.

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