Report of the NIH Task Force on Research Standards for Chronic Low Back Pain

  • Richard A. Deyo, MD, MPH Oregon Health and Sciences University
  • Samuel F. Dworkin, DDS, PhD University of Washington
  • Dagmar Amtmann, PhD University of Washington
  • Gunnar Andersson, MD, PhD Rush University Medical Center
  • David Borenstein, MD George Washington University
  • Eugene Carragee, MD Stanford University
  • John Carrino, MD, MPH Johns Hopkins University
  • Roger Chou MD Oregon Health and Sciences University
  • Karon Cook PhD Northwestern University
  • Anthony DeLitto, PT, PhD VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and University of Pittsburgh
  • Christine Goertz, DC, PhD Palmer College of Chiropractic
  • Partap Khalsa, DC, PhD National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • John Loeser, MD University of Washington
  • Sean Mackey, MD, PhD Stanford University
  • James Panagis, MD National Institute for Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
  • James Rainville, MD New England Baptist Hospital
  • Tor Tosteson, ScD Dartmouth University
  • Dennis Turk, PhD University of Washington
  • Michael Von Korff, ScD Group Health Research Institute
  • Debra K. Weiner, MD VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and University of Pittsburgh
Keywords: low back pain, chronic low back pain, research standards, minimum dataset, NIH Task Force


Despite rapidly increasing intervention, functional disability due to chronic low back pain (cLBP) has increased in recent decades. We often cannot identify mechanisms to explain the major negative impact cLBP has on patients’ lives. Such cLBP is often termed non-specific, and may be due to multiple biologic and behavioral etiologies. Researchers use varied inclusion criteria, definitions, baseline assessments, and outcome measures, which impede comparisons and consensus. The NIH Pain Consortium therefore charged a Research Task Force (RTF) to draft standards for research on cLBP. The resulting multidisciplinary panel recommended using 2 questions to define cLBP; classifying cLBP by its impact (defined by pain intensity, pain interference, and physical function); use of a minimal data set to describe research participants (drawing heavily on the PROMIS methodology); reporting “responder analyses” in addition to mean outcome scores; and suggestions for future research and dissemination. The Pain Consortium has approved the recommendations, which investigators should incorporate into NIH grant proposals. The RTF believes these recommendations will advance the field, help to resolve controversies, and facilitate future research addressing the genomic, neurologic, and other mechanistic substrates of chronic low back pain. We expect the RTF recommendations will become a dynamic document, and undergo continual improvement.

Perspective: A Task Force was convened by the NIH Pain Consortium, with the goal of developing research standards for chronic low back pain. The results included recommendations for definitions, a minimal dataset, reporting outcomes, and future research. Greater consistency in reporting should facilitate comparisons among studies and the development of phenotypes.

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How to Cite
Deyo, MD, MPH, R. A., Dworkin, DDS, PhD, S. F., Amtmann, PhD, D., Andersson, MD, PhD, G., Borenstein, MD, D., Carragee, MD, E., Carrino, MD, MPH, J., Chou MD, R., Cook PhD, K., DeLitto, PT, PhD, A., Goertz, DC, PhD, C., Khalsa, DC, PhD, P., Loeser, MD, J., Mackey, MD, PhD, S., Panagis, MD, J., Rainville, MD, J., Tosteson, ScD, T., Turk, PhD, D., Von Korff, ScD, M., & Weiner, MD, D. K. (2015). Report of the NIH Task Force on Research Standards for Chronic Low Back Pain. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 8(3), 16–33.