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Cognitive Functional Therapy

Cognitive functional therapy (CFT) is a patient centred approach to management that targets the beliefs, fears and associated movement & lifestyle behaviours of each individual with back pain. This story of a 28 year old man with disabling low back pain illustrates the CFT approach in action.

‘Eight years ago I had a lifting injury at work. It was terrible pain, I was worried so I went to the doctor who ordered a scan. The doctor said I had a back of a 70 year old. He said I couldn't surf again and or do manual work.I was devastated.

I underwent lots of treatments to stabilise my spine with exercises, spine injections and medication. Over this time the pain just got worse. Before I started the CFT program I had stopped work, I was spending 6 hours a day lying down and had stopped socialising. My back pain had consumed my life, I felt desperate and had nearly lost hope.

Through the CFT program I have learnt that my back isn’t damaged – I now realise that my whole nervous system was really wound up. I have learnt to relax and move normally again, I don’t fear movement now – my mindset has changed. Best of all I can go out for dinner, I can exercise and am now back doing my job. I still flare up when I am stressed but I don’t worry about it so much – the pain doesn’t limit my life like it did.

Looking back I now realise that for 8 years I was living with fear, I had lost confidence in my body and I was continually protecting my back by tensing it because I thought it was damaged. I avoided things that hurt, I couldn’t relax – I was so stressed.’

This kind of story is one which we come across on a regular basis. It highlights some of the dangers of over medicalising the type of back pain that most people will experience in their lifetime. These stories also show us that there is a better way of managing back pain and that the human body has the ability and capacity to overcome severe pain, even when it has been present for long periods of time. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that supports the use of Cognitive Functional Therapy (CFT) in the management of persistent and debilitating back pain. You can find out more about CFT and the man behind the concept - Professor Peter O'Sullivan - here: