Pain Science Education Plus Exercise Therapy in Chronic Nonspecific Spinal Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analyses of Randomized Clinical Trials

J Pain. 2022 Apr;23(4):535-546. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2021.09.006. Epub 2021 Oct 20.


Exercise therapy and education are recommended from several guidelines for managing symptoms in chronic nonspecific spinal pain (CNSP) patients. However, no systematic reviews have previously analyzed the effectiveness of pain science education (PSE) plus exercise therapy for managing CNSP related symptoms. Systematic searches were conducted on 10 databases looking for randomized control trials (RCTs) aimed to evaluate the effectiveness on pain, disability, kinesiophobia, and catastrophizing. Data were analyzed using random-effects meta-analyses and studies were appraised using the Cochrane ROB tool and GRADE. A total of eight RCTs (n = 622) were included in the qualitative-analysis and five were selected for meta-analysis. PSE plus exercise therapy showed improvements in pain (5RCTs: short-term: SMD: -0.53 [-0.86,-0.2]; 4RCTs: intermediate-term: SMD: -0.57 [-1.01,-0.14]; low quality), disability (4RCTs: short-term: SMD: -0.24 [-0.53,0.05]; 4RCTs: intermediate-term: SMD: -0.93 [-1.08,-0.03]; low-to-very-low quality), kinesiophobia (3RCTs: short-term: SMD: -0.7 [-1.51,0.11]; 4RCTs: intermediate-term: SMD: -0.93 [-1.57,-0.30]; moderate-to-very-low quality), and catastrophizing (2RCTs: short-term: MD: -3.26 points [-6.15,-0.37]; 3RCTs: intermediate-term: MD: -4.94 points [-8.08,-1.81]; low-to-very-low quality) compared to exercise alone. A qualitative-analysis showed improvements in the experimental group compared to multimodal physiotherapy (1RCT; low-to-very-low quality), whereas no clear benefits were reported compared to PSE alone (1RCT; very-low quality) or no intervention (1RCT; very-low quality). There is low to very-low certainty of the evidence suggesting that PSE plus exercise therapy reduces CNSP related-symptoms. PERSPECTIVE: Based on low-quality data from small samples, PSE plus exercise therapy reduces CNSP related symptoms. The evidence requires further investigation due to the limited number of studies with short follow-up periods (CRD42020168968).

Keywords: Chronic pain; cognitive behavioral therapy; exercise; pain education; pain neuroscience education.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Pain* / therapy
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Pain Management
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic