Purpose: The aim of this study is to provide a narrative review of the current state of knowledge of the role of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in the management of chronic nonspecific back pain.
Methods: A literature search on all studies published up until July 2012 (PubMed and PsycINFO) was performed. The search string consisted of 4 steps: cognitive behavioral therapy/treatment/management/modification/intervention, chronic, back pain (MeSH term) or low back pain (MeSH term), and randomized controlled trial (MeSH term). The conclusions are based on the results from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and reviews of RCTs. Interventions were not required to be pure CBT interventions, but were required to include both cognitive and behavioral components.
Results: The search yielded 108 studies, with 46 included in the analysis. Eligible intervention studies were categorized as CBT compared to wait-list controls/treatment as usual, physical treatments/exercise, information/education, biofeedback, operant behavioral treatment, lumbar spinal fusion surgery, and relaxation training. The results showed that CBT is a beneficial treatment for chronic back pain on a wide range of relevant variables, especially when compared to wait-list controls/treatment as usual. With regards to the other comparison treatments, results were mixed and inconclusive.
Conclusion: The results of this review suggest that CBT is a beneficial treatment for chronic nonspecific back pain, leading to improvements in a wide range of relevant cognitive, behavioral and physical variables. This is especially evident when CBT is compared to treatment as usual or wait-list controls, but mixed and inconclusive when compared with various other treatments. Multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary interventions that integrate CBT with other approaches may represent the future direction of management of chronic back pain, with treatments modified for specific circumstances and stakeholders. There is a need for future intervention studies to be specific in their use of cognitive behavioral elements, in order for results to be comparable.
Keywords: low back pain; pain management; problem-solving therapy; randomized controlled trials; review.