Sickle Cell Disease: A Review of Nonpharmacological Approaches for Pain.

Journal Article (Review;Journal Article)


Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a life-threatening condition that affects more than seven million people worldwide. The most common complication experienced by persons living with SCD is pain. Evidence supports the use of nonpharmacologic therapies in managing psychological and social complications of pain in persons with SCD, but there is little consensus if these approaches can also be applied for the treatment of pain in SCD.


To describe and synthesize the use of nonpharmacological therapies for reducing pain of any type and origin in persons with SCD.


A literature search was conducted using PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES, PubMed, CINAHL, and Embase. Databases were searched using the following terms: sickle cell, pain, and nonpharmacological therapies. Interventions were graded for methodological quality and categorized as 1) peer-support group therapies, 2) educational/psychological therapies, and 3) skill-based therapies.


Twenty-eight nonpharmacological interventions for persons with SCD were examined. Of these studies, a wide variety of nonpharmacological interventions were tested. Twelve studies yielded significant improvements in pain, three studies reported no positive effect or differences between experimental and control conditions on pain or a pain-related outcome, and one study reported a negative or detrimental intervention effect.


Approximately half of the studies reviewed demonstrated success in alleviating pain, suggesting that patients are able to use nonpharmacological interventions to reduce pain with some degree of success. Questions still remain regarding the efficacy and generalizability of these interventions for persons with SCD.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Williams, H; Tanabe, P

Published Date

  • February 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 51 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 163 - 177

PubMed ID

  • 26596876

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC4733641

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1873-6513

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0885-3924

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2015.10.017


  • eng