Sensory symptoms in low back pain—how do they matter?

Objective: Successful treatment of chronic low back pain (LBP) is difficult in clinical practice and hard to measure in trials. One reason might be the use of insufficient outcome parameters. The aim was to investigate the importance of typical clinical characteristics of chronic LBP on QoL and functionality.

Methods: A total of 51 patients with chronic LBP (19 with, 32 without radiculopathy) were investigated with different questionnaires.

Results: Burdening symptoms differed in frequency, intensity and impairment of QoL and functionality between patients with and without radiculopathy and between the area of pain within the same patient, i.e. between back and leg. Symptoms of nerve affection such as prickling pain and numbness were rated higher in the area of radiating pain than on the back in radiculopathy, and typical neuropathic pain symptoms such as burning pain, prickling, spontaneous pain, and feeling of deep pressure and pain at the beginning of movement were rated with a higher impairment of QoL and functionality in patients with compared to those without radiculopathy. Furthermore, intensity, impairment of QoL, and functionality were not necessarily reported in association with one another: some patients were highly impaired in QoL or functionality, despite a moderate-to-low pain intensity, whereas others suffered from severe pain, but were less impaired in QoL or functionality.

Conclusion: Results suggest the consideration of impairment of QoL and functionality in addition to symptom intensity for treatment evaluation of chronic LBP. This can help to improve overall well-being of the patients and enhance efficacy in clinical pain trials and patient-centered treatment.