Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is a highly prevalent, costly and disabling condition that is associated with high levels of health-care resource utilization. Over the past few decades, there has been a paradigm shift in our understanding of CLBP. Nowadays, this condition is accepted as a biopsychosocial phenomenon in which anatomical injury interplays with psychosocial factors. The considerable progress made in elucidating the aetiology of low back pain and the sharp increase in related health-care costs have not translated into a decreased prevalence of CLBP or the development of therapies with markedly improved efficacy and safety. Classic medical-technical interventions for CLBP always need to be placed in a broader therapeutic framework comprising physical, psychosocial and behavioural strategies, and must address the patient's welfare in a holistic context. A common key finding in the literature on these interventions for CLBP is their disappointing magnitude of pain reduction and gain in functionality. This Review summarizes general concepts of CLBP and focuses on evidence supporting the classic medical-technical approaches to CLBP; that is, pharmacotherapy, interventional pain management and surgery.