Background: Several classification schemes, each with its own philosophy and categorizing method, subgroup low back pain (LBP) patients with the intent to guide treatment. Physiotherapy derived schemes usually have a movement impairment focus, but the extent to which other biological, psychological, and social factors of pain are encompassed requires exploration. Furthermore, within the prevailing 'biological' domain, the overlap of subgrouping strategies within the orthopaedic examination remains unexplored. The aim of this study was "to review and clarify through developer/expert survey, the theoretical basis and content of physical movement classification schemes, determine their relative reliability and similarities/differences, and to consider the extent of incorporation of the bio-psycho-social framework within the schemes".
Methods: A database search for relevant articles related to LBP and subgrouping or classification was conducted. Five dominant movement-based schemes were identified: Mechanical Diagnosis and Treatment (MDT), Treatment Based Classification (TBC), Pathoanatomic Based Classification (PBC), Movement System Impairment Classification (MSI), and O'Sullivan Classification System (OCS) schemes. Data were extracted and a survey sent to the classification scheme developers/experts to clarify operational criteria, reliability, decision-making, and converging/diverging elements between schemes. Survey results were integrated into the review and approval obtained for accuracy.
Results: Considerable diversity exists between schemes in how movement informs subgrouping and in the consideration of broader neurosensory, cognitive, emotional, and behavioural dimensions of LBP. Despite differences in assessment philosophy, a common element lies in their objective to identify a movement pattern related to a pain reduction strategy. Two dominant movement paradigms emerge: (i) loading strategies (MDT, TBC, PBC) aimed at eliciting a phenomenon of centralisation of symptoms; and (ii) modified movement strategies (MSI, OCS) targeted towards documenting the movement impairments associated with the pain state.
Conclusions: Schemes vary on: the extent to which loading strategies are pursued; the assessment of movement dysfunction; and advocated treatment approaches. A biomechanical assessment predominates in the majority of schemes (MDT, PBC, MSI), certain psychosocial aspects (fear-avoidance) are considered in the TBC scheme, certain neurophysiologic (central versus peripherally mediated pain states) and psychosocial (cognitive and behavioural) aspects are considered in the OCS scheme.