Prevention and Treatment of Low Back Pain:
Evidence, Challenges, and Promising Directions

The Chiro.Org Blog

SOURCE:   Lancet. 2018 (Mar 20) [Epub]

Nadine E Foster, Johannes R Anema, Dan Cherkin, Roger Chou, Steven P Cohen, Douglas P Gross, Paulo H Ferreira, Julie M Fritz, Bart W Koes, Wilco Peul, Judith A Turner, Chris G Maher, on behalf of the Lancet Low Back Pain Series Working Group

Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre,
Research Institute for Primary Care and Health Sciences,
Keele University,
Staffordshire, UK.

Many clinical practice guidelines recommend similar approaches for the assessment and management of low back pain. Recommendations include use of a biopsychosocial framework to guide management with initial non-pharmacological treatment, including education that supports self-management and resumption of normal activities and exercise, and psychological programmes for those with persistent symptoms. Guidelines recommend prudent use of medication, imaging, and surgery. The recommendations are based on trials almost exclusively from high-income countries, focused mainly on treatments rather than on prevention, with limited data for cost-effectiveness. However, globally, gaps between evidence and practice exist, with limited use of recommended first-line treatments and inappropriately high use of imaging, rest, opioids, spinal injections, and surgery. Doing more of the same will not reduce back-related disability or its long-term consequences.

This is just one article from a series of 4:

The Lancet 2018 Series on Low Back Pain

The advances with the greatest potential are arguably those that align practice with the evidence, reduce the focus on spinal abnormalities, and ensure promotion of activity and function, including work participation. We have identified effective, promising, or emerging solutions that could offer new directions, but that need greater attention and further research to determine if they are appropriate for large-scale implementation.

These potential solutions include focused strategies to implement best practice, the redesign of clinical pathways, integrated health and occupational interventions to reduce work disability, changes in compensation and disability claims policies, and public health and prevention strategies.

From the FULL TEXT Article:


Despite the plethora of treatments and health-care resources devoted to low back pain, back-related disability and population burden have increased. [1, 2] The first paper [3] in this Series describes the global burden and effect of low back pain and provides an overview of the causes and course of low back pain. In this Series paper, we summarise the evidence for effectiveness of interventions for the prevention and treatment of low back pain and the recommendations from best practice guidelines. Despite generally consistent guideline recommendations around the world, clear evidence exists of substantial gaps between evidence and practice that are pervasive in low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries. Different response strategies are needed that prevent and minimise disability and promote participation in physical and social activities. Here we highlight examples of effective, promising, or emerging solutions from around the world and make recommendations to strengthen the vidence base for them.


Table 1

By contrast with the large number of trials that assess treatments for low back pain, evidence about prevention, particularly primary prevention, is inadequate (table 1). Most of the widely promoted interventions to prevent low back pain (eg, work-place education, no-lift policies, ergonomic furniture, mattresses, back belts, lifting devices) do not have a firm evidence base. A 2016 systematic review [4] identified only 21 trials with 30,850 adults (one in a low-middle-income country [Thailand]), and a 2014 systematic review [5] analysed only 11 randomised controlled trials with 2,700 children (one in a low-middle income country [Brazil]).

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Low Back Pain and Chiropractic Page

The authors of the review in adults concluded that moderate quality evidence existed that exercise alone, or in combination with education, is effective for prevention; and poor to very-poor quality evidence existed that education alone, back belts, shoe insoles, and ergonomic programmes might not be effective. [4] The preventive effect of exercise and education was large, with a pooled relative risk of 0.55 (95% CI 0.41–0.74); however, the trials were mainly of secondary prevention and the effective programmes were quite intensive (eg, 20 1-hour sessions of supervised exercise in one trial). [4] The authors of the review in children concluded that moderate quality evidence existed that education is not effective and very low quality evidence existed that ergonomically designed furniture could prevent low back pain compared with conventional furniture. [5]

Key messages
  • Guidelines recommend self-management, physical and psychological therapies, and some forms of complementary medicine, and place less emphasis on pharmacological and surgical treatments; routine use of imaging and investigations is not recommended

  • Little prevention research exists, with the only known effective interventions for secondary prevention being exercise combined with education, and exercise alone

  • The evidence for prevention and treatment comes mainly from adults in high-income countries and whether the resulting recommendations are appropriate for children or those in low-income and middle-income countries is not known

  • Non-evidence-based practice is apparent across all income settings; common problems are presentations to emergency departments and liberal use of imaging, opioids, spinal injections, and surgery

  • Promising solutions include focused implementation of best practice, the redesign of clinical pathways, integrated health and occupational care, changes to payment systems and legislation, and public health and prevention strategies

  • The evidence underpinning these solutions is inadequate and whether they are appropriate for widespread implementation is not known

  • Further testing of these promising solutions, and development of new solutions, is needed, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries


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