Because musculoskeletal pain problems are so prevalent, new methods of evaluating and treating patients are needed to increase effectiveness. Subgrouping is a method wherein patients are classified into defined groups on the basis of psychosocial factors with the expectation of more specific and tailored treatments can be prescribed for them. For those seeking care for a new episode, the risk of developing
chronic pain-related disability is assessed, whereas, for those with existing pain, the risk for the maintenance
of the chronic pain problem is evaluated.
The purpose of this narrative review is to examine how patients are classified into subgroups with regard to methods of evaluation and to ascertain whether subgrouping actually facilitates treatment.
For the development
of disability, screening tools, for example, the Örebro Musculoskeletal Pain Screening Questionnaire, accurately stratify patients into groups (eg, high, medium, low risk) that predict future pain-related work disability. In addition, several studies show that treatments that directly key in on risk groups enjoy enhanced outcomes compared with treatment as usual. For the maintenance
of chronic musculoskeletal pain
problems, there are several instruments that classify patients into specific groups or profiles, for example, on the basis of the avoidance and endurance model or the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) assessment. Although some evidence shows that these classifications are related to treatment outcome, we found no study that directly tested a system for providing treatment matched to the subgrouping for maintenance
We conclude that it is possible to reliably subgroup patients with musculoskeletal problems. Likewise, treatments that address the risk factors in the screening procedure may enhance outcomes compared with treatment as usual. More work is needed, however, to better understand the mechanism, so that assessment methods can be improved, and treatment specific to subgroups can be developed and evaluated.