A Sequential Multiple-Assignment Randomized Trial (SMART) for Stepped Care Management of Low Back Pain in the Military Health System: A Trial Protocol

Pain Med. 2020 Dec 12;21(Suppl 2):S73-S82. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnaa338.


Background: The Defense Health Agency has prioritized system-level pain management initiatives within the Military Health System (MHS), with low back pain as one of the key focus areas. A stepped care model focused on nonpharmacologic treatment to promote self-management is recommended. Implementation of stepped care is complicated by lack of information on the most effective nonpharmacologic strategies and how to sequence and tailor the various available options. The Sequential Multiple-Assignment Randomization Trial for Low Back Pain (SMART LBP) is a multisite pragmatic trial using a SMART design to assess the effectiveness of nonpharmacologic treatments for chronic low back pain.

Design: This SMART trial has two treatment phases. Participants from three military treatment facilities are randomized to 6 weeks of phase I treatment, receiving either physical therapy (PT) or Army Medicine's holistic Move2Health (M2H) program in a package specific to low back pain. Nonresponders to treatment in phase I are again randomized to phase II treatment of combined M2H + PT or mindfulness-based treatment using the Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) program. The primary outcome is the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System pain interference computer-adapted test score.

Summary: This trial is part of an initiative funded by the National Institutes of Health, Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Defense to establish a national infrastructure for effective system-level management of chronic pain with a focus on nonpharmacologic treatments. The results of this study will provide important information on nonpharmacologic care for chronic LBP in the MHS embedded within a stepped care framework.

Keywords: back pain; chronic pain; health coaching; holistic health; military health system; mindfulness; physical therapy; pragmatic clinical trial.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial Protocol
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Pain* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain* / therapy
  • Military Health Services*
  • Mindfulness*
  • Pain Management
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome