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Effects of Graded Sensorimotor Retraining on Pain Intensity in Patients with CLBP

Effects of Graded Sensorimotor

low back pain

Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is a debilitating condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide, impacting their quality of life and often leading to substantial healthcare costs. Traditional approaches to managing CLBP often focus on pain relief through medication or invasive procedures, but these solutions often provide only short-term relief and may not address the underlying causes of pain. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in non-pharmacological and non-invasive approaches to managing CLBP. One such approach is graded sensorimotor retraining, a method that has shown promise in improving pain intensity and functional outcomes in patients with CLBP.

This blog explores the effects of graded sensorimotor retraining on pain intensity in patients with CLBP, with reference to the RESOLVE study, which has contributed valuable insights into this innovative approach to pain management.

Graded Sensorimotor Retraining: An Overview

It is known that when pain is present for a prolonged period there are changes that occur within the brain that can make recovery slower and more difficult. Graded sensorimotor retraining is a rehabilitation approach that targets the neuromuscular and sensory systems to improve motor control, stability, and pain perception and reorganise the brain representation of the affected body part. This method involves a progressive and individualized program of exercises and activities that challenge patients to relearn optimal movement patterns and enhance proprioception (the sense of the body’s position in space). By retraining the sensorimotor system, it is believed that patients can regain control over their movements, reduce pain, and improve functional capacity.


The RESOLVE study is a significant commonwealth-funded research endeavour that sought to investigate the effectiveness of graded sensorimotor retraining in patients with CLBP. This multi-centre randomized controlled trial enrolled a diverse but typical group of CLBP patients and assessed the impact of the RESOLVE program on pain intensity, disability, and quality of life.

Key objectives in the study were to help people in pain, understand that it was safe and helpful to move, feel safe to move and experience that it was safe to move as they progressed towards reengagement with meaningful functional goals.

Sensorimotor retraining in the RESOLVE study involved pain education, sensory discrimination training which involved sharp/blunt discrimination and localisation of tactile stimulation on the back, including identifying letters and numbers written on the back. Mental rehearsal of movement commenced with left/right back movement discrimination looking at pictures of back movement, which was then progressed to watching and imagining back movements. Finally graded movement training was commenced with simple non-threatening movements initially progressing to movements relevant to the participants values and goals.

graded sensorimotor

Key Findings

  1. Pain Reduction: One of the primary outcomes of the RESOLVE study was the reduction in pain intensity among participants. Graded sensorimotor retraining was found to be associated with a significant decrease in pain levels compared to a sham treatment. This suggests that focusing on neuromuscular retraining can effectively target the source of CLBP and alleviate discomfort. It also demonstrated improvements in pain beliefs, catastrophising and pain self-efficacy.
  2. Improved quality of life: In addition to pain reduction, the RESOLVE program demonstrated improvements in quality of life outcomes.
  3. Long-term Benefits: Importantly, the study also investigated the sustainability of the benefits gained through sensorimotor retraining. The results suggested that the improvements in pain intensity and functionality were not merely short-term effects but could be maintained over an extended period up to one year. This finding highlights the potential for graded sensorimotor retraining to offer lasting relief for CLBP patients.

Clinical Implications

The RESOLVE study’s findings have significant clinical implications for the management of CLBP. Graded sensorimotor retraining offers a non-invasive and sustainable approach to reducing pain intensity and improving functional outcomes in CLBP patients. This approach may reduce the need for pain medications and invasive procedures, which often come with side effects and limited long-term benefits.

Furthermore, the individualised nature of sensorimotor retraining allows healthcare providers to tailor treatment plans to each patient’s unique needs, ensuring that the program addresses the specific underlying causes of their pain. This personalized approach enhances the likelihood of successful outcomes.


Chronic low back pain is a pervasive and challenging condition that affects many individuals’ lives. The RESOLVE study has shed light on the promising effects of graded sensorimotor retraining as a non-pharmacological and non-invasive approach to managing CLBP. By targeting the neuromuscular and sensory systems, this rehabilitation method has shown the potential to reduce pain intensity, improve functionality, and offer long-lasting relief.

As healthcare providers continue to explore innovative approaches to pain management, graded sensorimotor retraining stands out as a promising option for enhancing the quality of life for CLBP patients and reducing the burden of this condition on individuals and society as a whole.

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