Treatment Options for Chronic Pain- What Does the Research say?

As discussed in the previous article, chronic pain can manifest through very complex thought processes, as result of a wide variety of factors stemming from physical, psychological and cultural influences.
For this reason, there is not one single fix for chronic pain, but its treatment is very much defendant on a combined approach.

This article will focus on the conservative management of chronic back pain whilst not negating the importance of appropriate pharmaceutical and other interventions.


So what does the research say?


  • Exercise therapy -the first line treatment

The current evidence suggests exercise is more effective than “GP care” for the reduction of pain, disability and return to work . No one form of exercise (e.g. Aerobic, Mckenzie, conditioning exercise) appears  to be superior to the other, although an supervised and individualised exercise programme is recommended over general exercise conducted individually. This is something that can be discussed and provided by a qualified physiotherapist following a thorough assessment of your back.

Studies comparing the effect of pilates based exercises and usual back care, has shown pilates to significantly reduce low back symptoms and disability over long term basis.

There is strong evidence showing that exercise therapy alone is not more effective than conventional physiotherapeutic techniques (e.g joint mobilisations) and therefore exercise therapy must be prescribed along side other treatment adjuncts.


  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

This form of psychosocial therapy assumes that maladaptive, or faulty, thinking patterns cause maladaptive behavior and “negative” emotions (Maladaptive behavior is behavior that is counter – productive or interferes with everyday living).This treatment focuses on changing an individual's thoughts (cognitive patterns) in order to change his or her behavior and emotional state, allowing them to partake in exercise and all activities of daily living.

  • Manual therapy

Joint mobilizations should be considered as treatment in the short term management for chronic pain sufferers to increase function and decrease pain.
The research shows that joint mobilizations carried out in physiotherapy treatments is of equal effectiveness to analgesia, normal "GP care" and physiotherapy exercises in reducing symptoms.

  • Massage

Massage is not considered as an effective treatment option for chronic pain sufferers, but may be useful to treat the symptoms of muscle tightness post exercise.


  • Education

This is vital in in helping people understand that beliefs can alter and affect their recovery from pain. Pain should not been taken for granted, and a person should seek medical advice to decrease the amount of pain as soon as possible.

Education regarding pain, and understanding that pain is an unpleasant but subjective emotional experience,  and therefore should not be used as a tool to measure the amount of tissue damage is vital.

Having less fear and anxiety will make a person more willing to return to functional activities and exercise allowing for recovery.


O. Airaksinen, J. I. Brox, C. Cedraschi, J. Hildebrandt, J. Klaber-Moffett, F. Kovacs, A. F. Mannion, S. Reis, J. B. Staal and H. Ursin, et al (2006) European guidelines for the management of chronic nonspecific low back pain, European spine journal, vol 15: 193-300

Rydeard,R., Legar, A., Smith, D (2006) Pilates-based therapeutic exercise: effect on subjects with nonspecific chronic low back pain and functional disability : A randomized controlled trial, The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy, vol 36:474-484

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