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Papers of the Week

Papers: 29 Jun 2019 - 5 Jul 2019


Human Studies

2019 Oct 25

Scand J Pain



Chronic low back pain is highly individualised: patterns of classification across three unidimensional subgrouping analyses.


Rabey M, Smith A, Kent P, Beales D, Slater H, O'Sullivan P
Scand J Pain. 2019 Oct 25; 19(4):743-753.
PMID: 31256070.


Background and aims Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is a complex disorder where central and peripheral nociceptive processes are influenced by factors from multiple dimensions associated with CLBP (e.g. movement, pain sensitivity, psychological). To date, outcomes for treatments matched to unidimensional subgroups (e.g. psychologically-based) have been poor. Therefore, unidimensional subgrouping may not reflect the complexity of CLBP presentations at an individual level. The aim of this study was therefore to explore patterns of classification at an individual level across the three previously-published, data-driven, within-dimension subgrouping studies. Methods Cross-sectional, multidimensional data was collected in 294 people with CLBP. Statistical derivation of subgroups within each of three clinically-important dimensions (pain sensitivity, psychological profile, pain responses following repeated spinal bending) was briefly reviewed. Patterns of classification membership were subsequently tabulated across the three dimensions. Results Of 27 possible patterns across these dimensions, 26 were represented across the cohort. Conclusions This result highlights that while unidimensional subgrouping has been thought useful to guide treatment, it is unlikely to capture the full complexity of CLBP. The amount of complexity important for best patient outcomes is currently untested. Implications For clinicians this study highlights the high variability of presentations of people with CLBP at the level of the individual. For example, clinician's should not assume that those with high levels of pain sensitivity will also have high psychological distress and have pain summation following repeated spinal bending. A more flexible, multidimensional, clinically-reasoned approach to profile patient complexity may be required to inform individualised, patient-centred care. Such individualised care might improve treatment efficacy. This study also has implications for researchers; highlighting the inadequacy of unidimensional subgrouping processes and methodological difficulties in deriving subgroups across multidimensional data.