Classifying patients with non-specific chronic low back pain using the impact stratification score in an online convenience sample

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2023 Sep 9;24(1):719. doi: 10.1186/s12891-023-06848-2.


Background: In 2014, the National Institute of Health Pain Consortium's research task force (RTF) on research standards for chronic low back pain (CLBP) proposed the Impact Stratification Score (ISS) as a patient-reported outcome measure that could stratify patients by the impact CLBP has on their lives. This work compares three newly developed ISS-based classifications to the RTF's original to provide an optimal recommendation.

Methods: The online sample included 1226 individuals from Amazon's Mechanical Turk who indicated having non-specific CLBP, average age of 40, 49% female, and 67% White. Participants completed the PROMIS-29 v2.1 profile survey that contains the 9 ISS items as well the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ) and Graded Chronic Pain Scale (GCPS). Other items included high-impact chronic pain; not working due to health problems; overall health; and number of healthcare visits for back pain in the past 6 months. Three new classifications were created using quartiles (Classification 2), latent profile analysis (Classification 3), and one modeled after the GCPS (Classification 4). Classifications were subsequently compared to the RTF-proposed classification (Classification 1) on several concurrent and prognostic criteria.

Results: Classification 1 had three CLBP severity groups, four in Classification 2, three in Classification 3, and four in Classification 4. All novel classifications improved upon the original. Classification 2 performed best at minimizing the classification of those with negative outcomes into the lowest severity groups at baseline (e.g., 11% with RMDQ ≥ 7) and 6 months (e.g., 8.2% had fair/poor health). Classification 4 performed best at maximizing classification of those with negative outcomes into the most severe group concurrently (e.g., 100% had GCPS grade ≥ 2) and at 6 months (e.g., 100% with RMDQ ≥ 7).

Conclusions: We developed three ISS-based classification schemes and tested them against several outcomes. All three improved upon the original scheme. While appearing more optimal than other classifications in the lowest severity groups, Classification 2 presents some considerations and limitations. Given that Classification 4 was an improvement at the lowest end of severity and was the best at the highest end, it is our tentative recommendation that this approach be adopted to classify individuals with non-specific CLBP.

Keywords: Chronic low back pain; Classification; Impact stratification score; PROMIS®; Patient-reported outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Pain* / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain* / diagnosis
  • Male
  • Patient Reported Outcome Measures
  • Research Design