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J Pain Res. 2012;5:15-22. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S28636. Epub 2012 Jan 31.

Investigating patient expectations and treatment outcome in a chronic low back pain population.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Health Psychology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA.



This study aimed to measure the outcomes that patients consider clinically meaningful across four treatment domains - (1) pain, (2) fatigue, (3) emotional distress, and (4) level of interference - and determine if patients met their own success criteria. Additionally, the role of expectations in treatment outcome was examined. This study also aimed to determine how change in levels of pain, fatigue, disability, and level of interference varied according to the type of treatment delivered to participants.


Forty-seven chronic low back pain patients were recruited from university-affiliated pain clinics.


The study design was longitudinal, consisting of two randomly assigned treatment conditions. The first treatment condition used opioid medication only and the second used both opioid medication and brief cognitive behavioral therapy. Pre- and post-treatment assessments were conducted, which occurred approximately 3 months after the initiation of treatment.


A patient-centered outcomes questionnaire was completed by participants at both pre- and post-treatment assessment.


Results suggest that patients did not meet their own success criteria in treatment across any of the four domains. There was a significant main effect of time for level of pain indicating that both treatment groups had a decrease in their level of pain at post-treatment, F(1, 45) = 11.98, P < 0.001. There was a significant main effect of time for level of interference domain indicating that both groups experienced a reduction in the level of pain-related interference with daily activities, F(1, 45) = 5.46, P < 0.05. There were no significant effects of time for emotional distress or fatigue or any significant group by time interactions. Contrary to our hypothesis, no significant correlations were found between pretreatment expectations and usual level ratings at post-treatment across the four domains.


Patients sought larger reductions in pain, fatigue, level of distress, and level of interference than they attained at post-treatment. Enhancing opioid treatment with brief cognitive behavioral therapy did not yield additional improvements for the four domains assessed in patients with chronic low back pain.


chronic pain; cognitive behavioral therapy; expectations; patient centered; treatment outcome

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