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Behav Res Ther. 2001 Feb;39(2):151-66.

Graded exposure in vivo in the treatment of pain-related fear: a replicated single-case experimental design in four patients with chronic low back pain.

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  • 1Institute for Rehabilitation Research, Hoensbroek, The Netherlands.


The aim of this investigation was to examine the effectiveness of a graded exposure in vivo treatment with behavioural experiments as compared to usual graded activity in reducing pain-related fears, catastrophising and pain disability in chronic low back pain patients reporting substantial fear of movement/(re)injury. Included in the study were four consecutive CLBP patients who were referred for outpatient behavioural rehabilitation, and who reported substantial fear of movement/(re)injury (Tampa Scale for Kinesiophobia score>40). A replicated single-case cross-over design was used. After a no-treatment baseline measurement period, the patients were randomly assigned to one of two interventions. In intervention A, patients received the exposure first, followed by graded activity. In intervention B, the sequence of treatment modules was reversed. Sixty-three daily measures of pain-related cognitions and fears were recorded with visual analogue scales. Before and after the treatment, the following measures were taken: pain-related fear, pain catastrophising, pain control and pain disability. Using time series analysis on the daily measures of pain-related cognitions and fears, we found that improvements only occurred during the graded exposure in vivo, and not during the graded activity, irrespective of the treatment order. Analysis of the pre-post treatment differences also revealed that decreases in pain-related fear concurred with decreases in pain catastrophising and pain disability, and in half of the cases an increase in pain control. This study shows that the external validity of exposure in vivo also extends to the subgroup of chronic low back pain patients who report substantial fear of movement/(re)injury.

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