This study compares the outcomes of an individually tailored behavioral medicine intervention (experimental) with physical exercise therapy (control). The experimental intervention was systematically individualized according to each participant's behavioral treatment goals and functional behavioral analyses. One hundred twenty-two patients seeking care at 3 primary health care clinics because of musculoskeletal pain were randomized. Ninety-seven completed the trial. Data were collected at baseline, immediately after treatment, and at a 3-month follow-up. Analyses of data from completers, as well as intention-to-treat analyses, showed that the experimental group experienced lower levels of disability (P = .01), lower maximum pain intensity (P = .02), higher levels of pain control (P = .001), and lower fear of movement (P = .022) as a result of treatment condition. Self-efficacy (P = .0001) and physical performance (P = .0001) increased over time for both groups. Participants in the experimental group generally reported more positive effects after treatment. Treatment fidelity was maintained during the course of the study. Activity can be resumed and pain might be managed by the patients themselves if treatment incorporates the biopsychosocial explanatory model of pain and strategies are tailored according to individual's priorities of everyday life activities and empirically derived determinants of pain-related disability.
Perspective: This study shows that the biomedical and the psychosocial perspectives of the experiences and consequences of pain complement rather than contradict each other. Primary health care patients with persistent musculoskeletal pain benefit more from a systematic tailoring of treatments according to biopsychosocial factors than from a physically based exercise intervention.