Cognitive functional therapy compared with a group-based exercise and education intervention for chronic low back pain: a multicentre randomised controlled trial (RCT)

Br J Sports Med. 2020 Jul;54(13):782-789. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-100780. Epub 2019 Oct 19.


Background: One-size-fits-all interventions reduce chronic low back pain (CLBP) a small amount. An individualised intervention called cognitive functional therapy (CFT) was superior for CLBP compared with manual therapy and exercise in one randomised controlled trial (RCT). However, systematic reviews show group interventions are as effective as one-to-one interventions for musculoskeletal pain. This RCT investigated whether a physiotherapist-delivered individualised intervention (CFT) was more effective than physiotherapist-delivered group-based exercise and education for individuals with CLBP.

Methods: 206 adults with CLBP were randomised to either CFT (n=106) or group-based exercise and education (n=100). The length of the CFT intervention varied according to the clinical progression of participants (mean=5 treatments). The group intervention consisted of up to 6 classes (mean=4 classes) over 6-8 weeks. Primary outcomes were disability and pain intensity in the past week at 6 months and 12months postrandomisation. Analysis was by intention-to-treat using linear mixed models.

Results: CFT reduced disability more than the group intervention at 6 months (mean difference, 8.65; 95% CI 3.66 to 13.64; p=0.001), and at 12 months (mean difference, 7.02; 95% CI 2.24 to 11.80; p=0.004). There were no between-group differences observed in pain intensity at 6 months (mean difference, 0.76; 95% CI -0.02 to 1.54; p=0.056) or 12 months (mean difference, 0.65; 95% CI -0.20 to 1.50; p=0.134).

Conclusion: CFT reduced disability, but not pain, at 6 and 12 months compared with the group-based exercise and education intervention. Future research should examine whether the greater reduction in disability achieved by CFT renders worthwhile differences for health systems and patients.

Trial registration number: registry (NCT02145728).

Keywords: effectiveness; lower back; physiotherapy; randomised controlled trial.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Pain / psychology
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy* / methods
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Exercise Therapy* / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention to Treat Analysis
  • Low Back Pain / psychology
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Education as Topic* / methods

Associated data