Effect of Problem-Solving Therapy Versus Supportive Management in Older Adults with Low Back Pain and Depression While on Antidepressant Pharmacotherapy

Jordan F. Karp, Xiaotian Gao, Abdus S. Wahed, Jennifer Q. Morse, Bruce L. Rollman, Debra K. Weiner, Charles F. Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Testing stepped-care approaches that address both depression and low back pain are needed to optimize outcomes in older adults. Methods: This university-based late-life depression research center assessed 227 adults aged ≥ 60 years with chronic low back pain and depression. In Phase 1 participants received 6 weeks of low-dose venlafaxine (≤150 mg/day). Nonresponders were randomized to 10 weeks of high-dose venlafaxine (up to 300 mg/day) plus problem-solving therapy (PST) or high-dose venlafaxine with supportive management. Definition of response was 2 weeks of Patient Health Questionnaire-9 ≤ 5 and ≥30% pain reduction on a numeric rating scale. Function was measured with the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) and Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ). Results: Of those who completed Phase 1 (N = 209), 78.5% (N = 164) were nonresponders and 139 proceeded to Phase 2, with 68 randomized to venlafaxine/PST and 71 randomized to venlafaxine/supportive management. Of those in venlafaxine/PST, 41.2% (28/68) responded, and of those in venlafaxine/supportive management, 39.4% (28/71) responded. Cumulative proportion responding over time did not differ across the two arms (hazard ratio: 1.07; 95% confidence interval: 0.63–1.80). We observed clinically significant improvements in physical performance (SPPB) and disability (RMDQ) across both Phase 1 and 2, independent of intervention. Over 12 months of follow-up there was no difference between groups for stability of depression, pain, or disability. Conclusion: The combination of antidepressant pharmacotherapy and PST was not superior to antidepressant pharmacotherapy and supportive management. Clinically, the rates of response and stability of response over 1 year observed in both groups suggest that these approaches may have clinical utility in these chronically suffering patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)765-777
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • aged
  • Depression
  • low back pain
  • problem-solving therapy
  • PST
  • remission
  • venlafaxine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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