I've been seeing a physical therapist for chronic low back pain. I'd like to keep track of measurable improvement. Is there some scientific way to do this?

There are many, many tests and measures out there for assessing treatment results. Each one looks at something different. Some measure change in pain levels. Others compare activity level before and after treatment. Finding the right one for each patient may be a challenge.

Researchers at the University of Sydney School of Physiotherapy compared four different tests to one another. They wanted to see which one was most likely to show changes in patients with treatment. Such a study could help us find the best tool to measure change while also seeing which treatment works best.

They found that measuring changes in the pain level and disability scores gave the best idea of patient responsiveness to treatment. Pain was measured simply by rating the pain on a scale from zero (no pain) to 10 (worst pain). Disability was tracked by asking what the patient could or couldn't do.

You can do this yourself or you can ask your physical therapist to test you before and after treatment. The authors suggest using the visual analogue scale (VAS) for pain and the Patient Specific Functional Scale (PSFC).