Directional preference, cognitive behavioural interventions, and outcomes among patients with chronic low back pain.

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Physiotherapy research international : the journal for researchers and clinicians in physical therapy


chronic pain; cognitive behavioural therapy; lower back pain; recovery of function


OBJECTIVES: Graded activity and graded exposure are recommended cognitive behavioural approaches to improve function and pain outcomes for patients receiving physiotherapy for chronic nonspecific low back pain. Directional preference identified following the McKenzie method is also associated with favourable patient outcomes. Study objectives were to examine associations between graded activity and/or graded exposure, and directional preference or no directional preference combined with or without graded activity/graded exposure subgroups, and function and pain outcomes among patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain managed by clinicians credentialed in the McKenzie approach.

METHOD: Cohort study: Subjects (n = 801) with chronic nonspecific low back pain completed intake surveys, that is, the Lumbar Computer Adaptive Test measuring function and the Numeric Pain Rating Scale measuring pain, and questions addressing their demographic, lifestyle, and health status. Directional preference was determined at intake. Treatment with graded activity/graded exposure during the episode of care was recorded. Function and pain measures were repeated at discharge. Two models were developed controlling for potential confounding effects. The first model examined associations between patients receiving versus not receiving graded activity/graded exposure. The second model examined interaction effects between four combinations of directional preference and graded activity/graded exposure. Outcome measures were changes in function and pain during rehabilitation.

RESULTS: Regarding the first objective, there were no clinically relevant differences between treatment versus no treatment with graded activity/graded exposure, and functional outcomes. Regarding the second objective, patients in the no-directional preference group were more likely to see benefits from the addition of graded activity/graded exposure to their treatment groups than those with a directional preference.

CONCLUSION: Clinicians using McKenzie methods might attain improved patient functional outcomes when augmenting treatment with graded activity and/or graded exposure among patients who do not demonstrate directional preference.

Clinical Institute

Mental Health


Behavioral Health