Patient education does not help recovery from back pain

Researchers are calling for a review of global guidelines that recommend pain education for patients with low back pain, following a paper they published in JAMA Neurology that says intensive treatment does not help a patient’s recovery.

“Most people recover from acute low back pain without medical intervention,” said Co-author Associate Professor James McAuley, from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA).

“Globally, major clinical guidelines recommend that health practitioners provide patient education to manage acute low back pain.”

Lead author of the study Dr Adrian Traeger from the University of Sydney says the study is the first to test the approach recommended in the guidelines.

“Our results suggest that the recommendations were premature,” said Dr Traeger.

“These results challenge a widespread belief that patient education is an effective strategy for treatment of acute low back pain,” says Associate Professor McAuley.

Tips for managing pain
    • Remain calm and be reassured that your pain will get better
    • Keep active
    • Remain at work
    • Avoid strong medications
    • Avoid imaging tests.
About the study

The study followed 202 participants in Sydney who had experienced low back pain for less than six weeks and showed a high risk of developing chronic low back pain. All participants also saw their regular health practitioner during this study.

Participants in the intervention group received early specialised care involving patient education over two one-hour sessions. The education focused on pain and contributing factors, and self-management techniques. Participants in the control group received placebo patient education – active listening, but without information or advice.

The trial showed that adding two one-hour sessions of specialised patient education to usual care of patients did not reduce pain intensity or lead to a meaningful reduction in the development of disability.

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