Active exercise, education, and cognitive behavioral therapy for persistent disabling low back pain: a randomized controlled trial

Ruth E Johnson, Gareth T Jones, Nicola J Wiles, Carol Chaddock, Richard G Potter, Chris Roberts, Deborah P M Symmons, Paul J Watson, David J Torgerson, Gary J Macfarlane
Spine 2007 July 1, 32 (15): 1578-85

STUDY DESIGN: A randomized controlled trial.

OBJECTIVES: To determine 1) whether, among patients with persistent disabling low back pain (LBP), a group program of exercise and education using a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach, reduces pain and disability over a subsequent 12-month period; 2) the cost-effectiveness of the intervention; and 3) whether a priori preference for type of treatment influences outcome.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: There is evidence that both exercise and CBT delivered in specialist settings is effective in improving LBP. There is a lack of evidence on whether such interventions, delivered by trained individuals in primary care, result in improved outcomes.

METHODS: The study was conducted in nine family medical practices in East Cheshire, UK. Patients 18 to 65 years of age, consulting with LBP, were recruited; those still reporting LBP 3 months after the initial consultation were randomized between the two trial arms. The intervention arm received a program of eight 2-hour group exercise session over 6 weeks comprising active exercise and education delivered by physiotherapists using a CBT approach. Both arms received an educational booklet and audio-cassette. The primary outcome measures were pain (0-100 Visual Analogue Scale) and disability (Roland and Morris Disability Scale; score 0-24).

RESULTS: A total of 196 subjects (84%) completed follow-up 12 months after the completion of the intervention program. The intervention showed only a small and nonsignificant effect at reducing pain (-3.6 mm; 95% confidence interval, -8.5, 1.2 mm) and disability (-0.6 score; 95% confidence interval, -1.6, 0.4). The cost of the intervention was low with an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of pound5000 (U.S. $8650) per quality adjusted life year. In addition, patients allocated to the intervention that had expressed a preference for it had clinically important reductions in pain and disability.

CONCLUSIONS: This intervention program produces only modest effects in reducing LBP and disability over a 1-year period. The observation that patient preference for treatment influences outcome warrants further investigation.

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