The efficacy of targeted interventions for modifiable psychosocial risk factors of persistent nonspecific low back pain - a systematic review

Man Ther. 2012 Oct;17(5):385-401. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2012.02.008. Epub 2012 Mar 14.


Background: There is considerable interest in whether best practice management of nonspecific low back pain (NSLBP) should include the targeting of treatment to subgroups of people with identifiable clinical characteristics. However, there are no published systematic reviews of the efficacy of targeted psychosocial interventions.

Aim: This review aimed to determine if the efficacy of interventions for psychosocial risk factors of persistent NSLBP is improved when targeted to people with particular psychosocial characteristics.

Method: Bibliographic databases were searched. Inclusion criteria were randomised controlled trials of targeted psychosocial interventions that used trial designs capable of providing robust information on the efficacy of targeted treatment (treatment effect modification) for the outcomes of pain, activity limitation and psychosocial factors (fear avoidance, catastrophisation, anxiety and depression).

Results and conclusion: Four studies met the inclusion criteria and collectively investigated nine hypotheses about targeted treatment on 28 subgroup/treatment outcomes. There were only two statistically significant results. Graded activity plus Treatment Based Classification targeted to people with high movement-related fear was more effective than Treatment Based Classification at reducing movement-related fear at 4 weeks. Active rehabilitation (physical exercise classes with cognitive-behavioural principles) was more effective than usual GP care at reducing activity limitation at 12 months, when targeted to people with higher movement-related pain. Few studies have investigated targeted psychosocial interventions in NSLBP, using trial designs suitable for measuring treatment effect modification, and they do not provide consistent evidence supporting such targeting. There is a need for appropriately designed and adequately powered trials to investigate targeted psychosocial interventions.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Catastrophization / etiology
  • Child
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / complications
  • Low Back Pain / psychology*
  • Low Back Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Manipulations / methods*
  • Musculoskeletal Manipulations / psychology*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult