Distinguishing between nociceptive and neuropathic components in chronic low back pain using behavioural evaluation and sensory examination

N. Spahr*, D. Hodkinson, K. Jolly, S. Williams, M. Howard, M. Thacker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
299 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Diagnosis of chronic low back pain (CLBP) is traditionally predicated on identifying under- lying pathological or anatomical causes, with treatment outcomes modest at best. Alternately, it is sug- gested that identification of underlying pain mechanisms with treatments targeted towards specific pain phenotypes may yield more success. Differentiation between nociceptive and neuropathic components of CLBP is problematic; evidence suggests that clinicians fail to identify a significant neuropathic component in many CLBP patients. The painDETECT questionnaire (PDQ) was specifically developed to identify occult but significant neuropathic components in individuals thought to have predominantly nociceptive pain.

Methods: Using the PDQ, we classified 50 CLBP patients into two distinct groups; those with predomi- nantly nociceptive pain (Group 1) and those with a significant neuropathic component (Group 2). We characterised these two distinct CLBP sub-groups using a) questionnaire-based behavioural evaluation measuring pain-related function and quality of life, pain intensity and psychological well-being and b) sensory examination, using two-point and tactile threshold discrimination.
Objective: We sought to determine if differences in the pain phenotype of each CLBP sub-group would be reflected in sensory and behavioural group profiles.

Results: We report that Group 1 and Group 2 sub-groups demonstrate unique clinical profiles with significant differences in sensory tactile discrimination thresholds and in a wide range of behavioural domains measuring pain intensity, disability and psychological well-being.

Conclusion: We have demonstrated distinct clinical profiles for CLBP patient sub-groups classified by PDQ. Our results give diagnostic confidence in using the PDQ to characterise two distinct pain pheno- types in a heterogeneous CLBP population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-48
Number of pages9
JournalMusculoskeletal Science and Practice
Early online date19 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • Chronic pain
  • Low back pain
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Nociceptive pain


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