Multidisciplinary biopsychosocial rehabilitation programs (including workplace visits) seem to offer some benefit for adults with subacute low back pain, but further research on effectiveness and cost-effectiveness is needed.
Prolonged low back pain can lead to a combination of physical, psychological, occupational and social impairment. For that reason, physical rehabilitation can also include psychological, behavioural and educational interventions. This kind of "biopsychosocial multidisciplinary rehabilitation" is available as outpatient rehabilitation, or in pain clinics and rehabilitation centres. The review found moderate evidence of effectiveness from trials of this type of rehabilitation for working age adults. Although the trials showed some benefit from multidisciplinary rehabilitation which includes workplace visits, more research on effectiveness and cost-effectiveness is needed.
We conclude that there is moderate evidence of positive effectiveness of multidisciplinary rehabilitation for subacute low back pain and that a workplace visit increases the effectiveness. But because this evidence is based on trials that had some methodological shortcomings, and several expensive multidisciplinary rehabilitation programmes are commonly used for uncomplicated/non-specific subacute low back problems, there is an obvious need for high quality trials in this field.
Multidisciplinary biopsychosocial rehabilitation programs are widely applied for chronic low back pain patients. The biopsychosocial approach can also prevent chronicity, by providing rehabilitation for patients who still have pain past the initial acute phase. Nevertheless, multidisciplinary treatment programmes are often laborious and long processes and require good collaboration between the patient, the rehabilitation team and the work place. By using workplace visits and developing close relationships with occupational health care providers, one might expect patients' working ability to improve.
The objective of this systematic review was to determine the effectiveness of multidisciplinary rehabilitation for subacute low back pain among working age adults.
The reviewed studies for this review were electronically identified from MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycLIT, CENTRAL, Medic, the Science Citation Index, reference checking and consulting experts in the rehabilitation field. The original search was planned and performed for the broader area of musculoskeletal disorders. Trials on subacute low back pain were separated afterwards. The literature search was last updated in November 2002 in EMBASE and MEDLINE.
From all references identified in our original search, we selected randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and non-randomised controlled clinical trials (CCTs). Trials had to assess the effectiveness of multidisciplinary rehabilitation for working age patients suffering from subacute low back pain (more than four weeks but less than three months). The rehabilitation program was required to be multidisciplinary, i.e., it had to consist of a physician's consultation plus either a psychological, social or vocational intervention, or a combination of these.
Four reviewers blinded to journal and author selected trials that met the specified inclusion criteria. Two experts in the field of rehabilitation evaluated the clinical relevance and applicability of the findings of the selected studies for actual clinical use. Two other reviewers blinded to journal and author extracted the data and assessed the main results and the methodological quality of the studies, using standardized forms. Finally, a qualitative analysis was performed to evaluate the level of scientific evidence for the effectiveness of multidisciplinary rehabilitation.
After screening 1808 abstracts, and the references of 65 reviews, we found only two relevant studies that satisfied our criteria on subacute low back pain. No more studies were found during the updates. Both studies were considered to be methodologically low quality RCTs. The clinical relevance of included studies was sufficient. There was moderate scientific evidence showing that multidisciplinary rehabilitation, which includes a workplace visit or more comprehensive occupational health care intervention, helps patients to return to work faster, results in fewer sick leaves and alleviates subjective disability.