Does adding cognitive-behavioural physiotherapy to exercise improve outcome in patients with chronic neck pain?

The purpose of this study was to determine whether adding a physiotherapist-led cognitive-behavioural intervention to an exercise programme improved outcome in patients with chronic neck pain (CNP).

In this multicentre randomised controlled trial, fifty-seven patients with CNP from four outpatient physiotherapy departments participated in the study. Follow-up data were provided by 39 participants [57% of the progressive neck exercise programme (PNEP) group and 79% of the interactive behavioural modification therapy (IBMT) group]. Twenty-eight subjects were randomised to the PNEP group and 29 subjects were randomised to the IBMT group. IBMT is underpinned by cognitive-behavioural principles, and aims to modify cognitive risk factors through interactive educational sessions, graded exercise and progressive goal setting.

The main outcome measure was disability, measured by the Northwick Park Questionnaire (NPQ). Secondary outcomes were the Numeric Pain Rating Scale (NPRS), Pain Catastrophising Scale, Tampa Scale for Kinesiophobia (TSK), Chronic Pain Self-efficacy Scale (CPSS) and the Pain Vigilance and Awareness Questionnaire.

No significant between-group differences in disability were observed (mean NPQ change: PNEP=-7.2, IBMT=-10.2). However, larger increases in functional self-efficacy (mean CPSS change: PNEP=1.0, IBMT=3.2) and greater reductions in pain intensity (mean NPRS change: PNEP=-1.0, IBMT=-2.2; P<0.05) and pain-related fear (mean TSK change: PNEP=0.2, IBMT=-4.7, P<0.05) were observed with IBMT. Additionally, a significantly greater proportion of participants made clinically meaningful reductions in pain (25% vs 55%, P<0.05) and disability (25% vs 59%, P<0.05) with IBMT.

The primary outcome did not support the use of cognitive-behavioural physiotherapy in all patients with CNP. However, superior outcomes were observed for several secondary measures, and IBMT may offer additional benefit in some patients.