The Efficacy of a Risk Factor-Based Cognitive Behavioral Intervention and Electromyographic Biofeedback in Patients with Acute Sciatic Pain: An Attempt to Prevent Chronicity

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Study Design.

An investigation of the efficacy of an individually scheduled, risk factor-based cognitive behavioral therapy and a standardized electromyographic biofeedback intervention in the prevention of chronicity in patients with acute sciatica and psychosocial risk factors for chronicity.


To investigate the possibility of enhancing pain relief and preventing chronicity in patients with acute sciatica, based on a screening for psychosocial high-risk factors of chronification.

Summary of Background Data.

Psychological interventions were evaluated mainly in patients with chronic low back pain. Numerous randomized trials have demonstrated their efficacy, whereas the amount of pain relief was found to be marginal.


Subjective and behavioral outcome parameters were compared with the respective parameters in age-, gender-, and diagnosis-matched high- and low-risk patients. No additional behavioral treatment for in-patient medical therapy was offered to the patients. Outcome of these patients also was compared with that of a group of refusers of behavioral therapy. Psychological, functional, and behavioral variables were measured before and after treatment and at 3-, 6-, 12- and 18-month follow-up visits. Changes over time, group differences, and possible group × time interactions were analyzed by analysis of variance and nonparamteric comparisons.


Data analysis showed a statistically and clinically significant, beneficial effect of both behavioral interventions. However, risk factor-based cognitive behavioral therapy was superior to electromyographic biofeedback intervention with respect to pain relief and application for early retirement. The cognitive behavioral therapy showed a similar good outcome (e.g., 90% showed a clinical significant pain reduction) as the low-risk patients (83% pain reduction). High risk patients and refusers of therapy showed a poor outcome in pain (33% and 20% pain reduction, respectively), disability, and work performance.


Individually scheduled, risk factor-based cognitive behavior therapy could be a beneficial treatment modality, which can be offered, in addition to a medical treatment, to patients with acute sciatica and psychosocial high risk factors for chronicity. It may be an effective way to prevent chronification in these patients.

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