Longitudinal studies have shown that the symptoms of chronic low back pain (CLBP) will follow an episodic trajectory characterized by periods of high and low pain intensity that can persist for many years. There is a growing belief that the contemporary approach of limiting physical therapy to short, but intense courses of treatment for (CLBP) may be sub-optimal because these limited "windows" of clinical care are not congruent with the natural history of this condition. Recent research has suggested that people with CLBP undergo substantial, and individualized long-term variations in the neural processing of nociception over time. This has led to the concept of a "unique biosignature of pain" that may explain much of the variation in a person's clinical picture. These and other findings have led to the reconceptualization of CLBP as an individualized, and continually evolving condition that may be more suitably managed by empowering the patient toward self-management strategies that can be modified as needed over time by the PT.
The purpose of this Master Class Paper is to describe an emerging approach for the treatment of CLBP that emphasizes the formation of a long-term therapeutic alliance between the patient and the PT with an emphasis on individualized, patient-preferred approaches for activity-based self-management as an alternative to the contemporary approach of short, intense episodes of care directed toward pain reduction.
Longitudinal care using assisted self-management strategies is more congruent with the natural history of CLBP than are traditional approaches for PT intervention. This approach may empower patients to undergo lifestyle changes that will favorably influence long-term outcomes; however additional research is needed.