Exploring expectations and perceptions of different manual therapy techniques in chronic low back pain: a qualitative study

A Plank, A Rushton, Y Ping, R Mei, D Falla, N R Heneghan

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BACKGROUND: Chronic low back pain (CLBP) prevalence has steadily increased over the last two decades. Manual therapy (MT) is recommended within a multimodal management approach to improve pain and disability although evidence investigating the patients' experience of MT is scarce.

OBJECTIVE: To explore expectations and perceptions of MT techniques in people with CLBP.

METHODS: A qualitative study embedded sequential to an experimental trial using semi-structured interviews (SSI) explored participants' experiences of thrust, non-thrust and sham technique. Purposive sampling enabled variance in age and CLBP duration. An evidence informed topic guide was used. Data were analysed using thematic analysis (TA). Respondent validation and peer debriefing enhanced trustworthiness. The Consolidating Criteria for Reporting Qualitative Studies (COREQ) reported methodological rigour.

FINDINGS: Ten participants (50% male) with a mean age of 29.1 years (Standard Deviation (SD): 7.9, range: 19-43), a mean pain intensity of 4.5 on a Numeric Rating Scale (NRS) 0-10 (SD: 1.5, range: 2-7), a mean Oswestry Disability Score (ODI) of 9 (SD: 4.6, range: 2-17) and a mean Tampa Scale of Kinesiophobia (TSK) score of 38.6 (SD: 4.8, range: 30-45) participated. Four themes were identified: understanding of pain; forming expectations; perception of care; re-evaluation of body awareness and management. Understanding of CLBP is formed by an individuals' pain perception and exchange with social environment. This, combined with communication with physiotherapist influenced expectations regarding the MT technique.

CONCLUSION: Expectations for MT were formed by an individual's social environment and previous experience. A treatment technique is perceived as positive if its characteristics are aligned with the individual's understanding of pain and if care is delivered in an informative and reassuring manner.

Original languageEnglish
Article number444
JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2021


  • Adult
  • Chronic Pain/diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain/diagnosis
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Musculoskeletal Manipulations
  • Pain Measurement
  • Perception


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