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Phys Ther. 2013 Aug;93(8):1130-9. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20120426. Epub 2013 Apr 18.

Cognitive-behavioral-based physical therapy to improve surgical spine outcomes: a case series.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery & Rehabilitation, School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University, Medical Center East-South Tower, Suite 4200, Nashville, TN 37232, USA.



Fear of movement is a risk factor for poor postoperative outcomes in patients following spine surgery. The purposes of this case series were: (1) to describe the effects of a cognitive-behavioral-based physical therapy (CBPT) intervention in patients with high fear of movement following lumbar spine surgery and (2) to assess the feasibility of physical therapists delivering cognitive-behavioral techniques over the telephone.


Eight patients who underwent surgery for a lumbar degenerative condition completed the 6-session CBPT intervention. The intervention included empirically supported behavioral self-management, problem solving, and cognitive restructuring and relaxation strategies and was conducted in person and then weekly over the phone. Patient-reported outcomes of pain and disability were assessed at baseline (6 weeks after surgery), postintervention (3 months after surgery), and at follow-up (6 months after surgery). Performance-based outcomes were tested at baseline and postintervention. The outcome measures were the Brief Pain Inventory, Oswestry Disability Index, 5-Chair Stand Test, and 10-Meter Walk Test.


Seven of the patients demonstrated a clinically significant reduction in pain, and all 8 of the patients had a clinically significant reduction in disability at 6-month follow-up. Improvement on the performance-based tests also was noted postintervention, with 5 patients demonstrating clinically meaningful change on the 10-Meter Walk Test.


The findings suggest that physical therapists can feasibly implement cognitive-behavioral skills over the telephone and may positively affect outcomes after spine surgery. However, a randomized clinical trial is needed to confirm the results of this case series and the efficacy of the CBPT intervention. Clinical implications include broadening the availability of well-accepted cognitive-behavioral strategies by expanding implementation to physical therapists and through a telephone delivery model.

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