Cognitive-behavioral pain management programs typically achieve improvements in pain cognitions, disability, and physical performance. However, it is not known whether the neurophysiology education component of such programs contributes to these outcomes. In chronic low back pain patients, we investigated the effect of neurophysiology education on cognitions, disability, and physical performance.
This study was a blinded randomized controlled trial. Individual education sessions on neurophysiology of pain (experimental group) and back anatomy and physiology (control group) were conducted by trained physical therapist educators. Cognitions were evaluated using the Survey of Pain Attitudes (revised) (SOPA(R)), and the Pain Catastrophizing Scale (PCS). Behavioral measures included the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ), and 3 physical performance tasks; (1) straight leg raise (SLR), (2) forward bending range, and (3) an abdominal “drawing-in” task, which provides a measure of voluntary activation of the deep abdominal muscles. Methodological checks evaluated non-specific effects of intervention.
There was a significant treatment effect on the SOPA(R), PCS, SLR, and forward bending. There was a statistically significant effect on RMDQ; however, the size of this effect was small and probably not clinically meaningful.
Education about pain neurophysiology changes pain cognitions and physical performance but is insufficient by itself to obtain a change in perceived disability. The results suggest that pain neurophysiology education, but not back school type education, should be included in a wider pain management approach.