Multidisciplinary treatment at the early stages of low back pain

Review Question

We reviewed the evidence about the effect of multidisciplinary treatments on pain, disability, and work status among people who had been experiencing low back pain for six to 12 weeks. We defined multidisciplinary treatments as treatments that target physical as well as psychological or social aspects of low back pain and involve a team of healthcare providers with different professional backgrounds and training. For example, a treatment that integrated exercise therapy provided by a physiotherapist with workplace adjustments provided by an ergonomist, a specialist in the design and setup of workplace equipment, would be considered to be multidisciplinary.

Background

Low back pain (LBP) is a condition that causes a great deal of pain and suffering across the world and also accounts for large costs to society due to healthcare spending and missed work. Previous research has shown that people who have back pain for more than three months are less likely to recover. As a result, there is increasing emphasis on the importance of intervening at the early stages of LBP.

The purpose of this review was to discover whether multidisciplinary treatments were better or worse than other alternatives, such a usual care (i.e. current clinical practice) or other treatments (e.g. exercise therapy alone) for people experiencing low back pain for six to 12 weeks.

Study Characteristics

The search is current to July of 2016.

Five studies were conducted in Europe and four in North America. Sample sizes ranged from 33 to 351. The mean age across trials ranged between 32.0 and 43.7 years. The majority of studies included mixed samples of male and female participants. The authors had no concerns about funding sources of any included studies.

Key Results

Overall, we found that multidisciplinary treatments may be better than usual care for people with LBP for a duration of six to 12 weeks. Individuals receiving multidisciplinary treatment had less pain, less disability, increased likelihood of return-to-work and fewer sick leave days at 12-month follow-up. However, when comparing multidisciplinary treatments to other treatments (e.g. brief clinical intervention including education and advice on exercise), we found that multidisciplinary treatments may be no better than other treatments. Although we examined adverse events as a secondary outcome, none of the included studies reported this outcome.

Quality of the Evidence

The quality of the evidence for this review was generally low to very low. This was mainly due to small sample sizes and other study limitations. Moreover, we grouped together studies with differing interventions and comparisons. For example, some of the multidisciplinary interventions were quite intense (e.g. > 30 hours of treatment), whereas others were designed to be brief (e.g. < three hours). This variability across studies makes it more challenging to interpret the findings.

In sum, there is a need for additional, large, high-quality randomised controlled trials before we can make definitive recommendations for clinical practice.

Authors' conclusions: 

On average, people with subacute LBP who receive MBR will do better than if they receive usual care, but it is not clear whether they do better than people who receive some other type of treatment. However, the available research provides mainly low to very low-quality evidence, thus additional high-quality trials are needed before we can describe the value of MBP for clinical practice.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Low back pain (LBP) is associated with enormous personal and societal burdens, especially when it reaches the chronic stage of the disorder (pain for a duration of more than three months). Indeed, individuals who reach the chronic stage tend to show a more persistent course, and they account for the majority of social and economic costs. As a result, there is increasing emphasis on the importance of intervening at the early stages of LBP.

According to the biopsychosocial model, LBP is a condition best understood with reference to an interaction of physical, psychological, and social influences. This has led to the development of multidisciplinary biopsychosocial rehabilitation (MBR) programs that target factors from the different domains, administered by healthcare professionals from different backgrounds.

This review is an update of a Cochrane Review on MBR for subacute LBP, which was published in 2003. It is part of a series of reviews on MBR for musculoskeletal pain published by the Cochrane Back and Neck Group and the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Group.

Objectives: 

To examine the effectiveness of MBR for subacute LBP (pain for a duration of six to 12 weeks) among adults, with a focus on pain, back-specific disability, and work status.

Search strategy: 

We searched for relevant trials in any language by a computer-aided search of CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, PsycINFO and two trials registers. Our search is current to 13 July 2016.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of adults with subacute LBP. We included studies that investigated a MBR program compared to any type of control intervention. We defined MBR as an intervention that included a physical component (e.g. pharmacological, physical therapy) in combination with either a psychological, social, or occupational component (or any combination of these). We also required involvement of healthcare professionals from at least two different clinical backgrounds with appropriate training to deliver the component for which they were responsible.

Data collection and analysis: 

We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. In particular, the data extraction and 'risk of bias' assessment were conducted by two people, independently. We used the Cochrane tool to assess risk of bias and the GRADE approach to assess the overall quality of the evidence for each outcome.

Main results: 

We included a total of nine RCTs (981 participants) in this review. Five studies were conducted in Europe and four in North America. Sample sizes ranged from 33 to 351. The mean age across trials ranged between 32.0 and 43.7 years.

All included studies were judged as having high risk of performance bias and high risk of detection bias due to lack of blinding, and four of the nine studies suffered from at least one additional source of possible bias.

In MBR compared to usual care for subacute LBP, individuals receiving MBR had less pain (four studies with 336 participants; SMD -0.46, 95% CI -0.70 to -0.21, moderate-quality of evidence due to risk of bias) and less disability (three studies with 240 participants; SMD -0.44, 95% CI -0.87 to -0.01, low-quality of evidence due to risk of bias and inconsistency), as well as increased likelihood of return-to-work (three studies with 170 participants; OR 3.19, 95% CI 1.46 to 6.98, very low-quality of evidence due to serious risk of bias and imprecision) and fewer sick leave days (two studies with 210 participants; SMD -0.38 95% CI -0.66 to -0.10, low-quality of evidence due to risk of bias and imprecision) at 12-month follow-up. The effect sizes for pain and disability were low in terms of clinical meaningfulness, whereas effects for work-related outcomes were in the moderate range.

However, when comparing MBR to other treatments (i.e. brief intervention with features from a light mobilization program and a graded activity program, functional restoration, brief clinical intervention including education and advice on exercise, and psychological counselling), we found no differences between the groups in terms of pain (two studies with 336 participants; SMD -0.14, 95% CI -0.36 to 0.07, low-quality evidence due to imprecision and risk of bias), functional disability (two studies with 345 participants; SMD -0.03, 95% CI -0.24 to 0.18, low-quality evidence due to imprecision and risk of bias), and time away from work (two studies with 158 participants; SMD -0.25 95% CI -0.98 to 0.47, very low-quality evidence due to serious imprecision, inconsistency and risk of bias). Return-to-work was not reported in any of the studies.

Although we looked for adverse events in both comparisons, none of the included studies reported this outcome.

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