MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

physiotherapists

This study allegedly evaluated the efficacy of osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT) compared to that of the Kaltenborn-Evjenth Orthopedic Manipulative Therapy (KEOMT) for patients with chronic LBP.

It included 68 participants of both genders, aged 30 to 60, with chronic LBP. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two parallel groups, each with 34 members. The OMT group received, as a direct technique, a high-velocity/low-amplitude (HVLA) impulse, and as indirect techniques, strain counterstrain (SCS), myofascial release (MFR), and visceral mobilization therapy (VMT). The KEOMT group received lumbar segmental traction and lumbar segmental mobilization-flexion and gliding therapy grade 3. The participants in both groups received 10 treatments, two per week for five weeks. The primary outcome was pain severity, using a numeric pain rating scale (NPRS). The secondary outcome was the measurement of functional disability, using the Oswestry Disability Index (ODI).

The OMT and KEOMT both decreased pain and disability; however, the changes on the NPRS and ODI postintervention were statistically greater for the OMT group compared to the KEOMT group (P < .05).

The authors concluded that the OMT was better at reducing pain and improving quality of life. It reduced functional disability more than KEOMT in patients with chronic LBP.

The Kaltenborn-Evjenth Orthopedic Manipulative Therapy (KEOMT) concept is a treatment and training system based upon a comprehensive biomechanical evaluation of the arthro-neuro-muscular system and an individual’s functional abilities. This system of diagnosis and patient management applies to both patients with acute, subacute and chronic conditions of the spine and extremities and to athletes seeking to improve performance. It offers a reliable and practical approach that focuses on optimal physical health and function.

Has the KEOMT concept been tested and shown to be effective for LBP?

No!

So, what we have here is an equivalence trial of two manual techniques. As such it is FAR too small to yield a meaningful result. If the findings were meaningful, would they show that OMT is effective?

No!

As we have no proof that KEOMT does not impede recovery from LBP, the result could merely be due to the fact that OMT does not influence the natural history of LBP, while KEOMT has a detrimental effect.

Last question: which journal publishes such rubbish?

Ahh, it’s the remarkable Alternative therapies in health and medicine. That explains a lot!

 

The ‘American Heart Association News’ recently reported the case of a 33-year-old woman who suffered a stroke after consulting a chiropractor. I take the liberty of reproducing sections of this article:

Kate Adamson liked exercising so much, her goal was to become a fitness trainer. She grew up in New Zealand playing golf and later, living in California, she worked out often while raising her two young daughters. Although she was healthy and ate well, she had occasional migraines. At age 33, they were getting worse and more frequent. One week, she had the worst headache of her life. It went on for days. She wasn’t sleeping well and got up early to take a shower. She felt a wave of dizziness. Her left side seemed to collapse. Adamson made her way down to the edge of the tub to rest. She was able to return to bed, where she woke up her husband, Steven Klugman. “I need help now,” she said.

Her next memory was seeing paramedics rushing into the house while her 3-year-old daughter, Stephanie, was in the arms of a neighbor. Rachel, her other daughter, then 18 months old, was still asleep. When she woke up in the hospital, Adamson found herself surrounded by doctors. Klugman was by her side. She could see them, hear them and understand them. But she could not move or react.

Doctors told Klugman that his wife had experienced a massive brain stem stroke. It was later thought to be related to neck manipulations she had received from a chiropractor for the migraines. The stroke resulted in what’s known as locked-in syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system. She was paralyzed except for the muscles that control eye movement. Adamson realized she could answer yes-or-no questions by blinking her eyes.

Klugman was told that Adamson had a very minimal chance of recovery. She was put on a ventilator to breathe, given nutrition through a feeding tube, and had to use a catheter. She learned to coordinate eye movements to an alphabet chart. This enabled her to make short sentences. “Am I going to die?” she asked one of her doctors. “No, we’re going to get you into rehab,” he said.

Adamson stayed in the ICU on life support for 70 days before being transferred to an acute rehabilitation facility. She could barely move a finger, but that small bit of progress gave her hope. In rehab, she slowly started to regain use of her right side; her left side remained paralyzed. Therapists taught her to swallow and to speak. She had to relearn to blow her nose, use the toilet and tie her shoes.

She was particularly fond of a social worker named Amy who would incorporate therapy exercises into visits with her children, such as bubble blowing to help her breathing. Amy, who Adamson became friends with, also helped the children adjust to seeing their mother in a wheelchair.

Adamson changed her dream job from fitness trainer to hospital social worker. She left rehab three and a half months later, still in a wheelchair but able to breathe, eat and use the toilet on her own. She continued outpatient rehab for another year. She assumed her left side would improve as her right side did. But it remained paralyzed. She would need to use a brace on her left leg to walk and couldn’t use her left arm and hand. Still, two years after the stroke, which happened in 1995, Adamson was able to drive with a few equipment modifications…

In 2018, Adamson reached another milestone. She graduated with a master’s degree in social work; she’d started college in 2011 at age 49. “It wasn’t easy going to school. I just had to take it a day at a time, a semester at a time,” she said. “The stroke has taught me I can walk through anything.” …

Now 60, she works with renal transplant and pulmonary patients, helping coordinate their services and care with the rest of the medical team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Knowing that you’re making a difference in somebody’s life is very satisfying. It takes me back to when I was a patient – I’m always looking at how I would want to be treated,” she said. “I’ve really come full circle.”

Adamson has adapted to doing things one-handed in a two-handed world, such as cooking and tying her shoes. She also walks with a cane. To stay in shape, she works with a trainer doing functional exercises and strength training. She has a special glove that pulls her left hand into a fist, allowing her to use a rowing machine and stationary bike….

Adamson is especially determined when it comes to helping her patients. “I work really hard to be an example to them, to show that we are all capable of going through difficult life challenges while still maintaining a positive attitude and making a difference in the world.”

________________________

What can we learn from this story?

Mainly two things, in my view:

  1. We probably should avoid chiropractors and certainly not allow them to manipulate our necks. I know, chiros will say that the case proves nothing. I agree, it does not prove anything, but the mere suspicion that the lock-in syndrome was caused by a stroke that, in turn, was due to upper spinal manipulation plus the plethora of cases where causality is much clearer are, I think, enough to issue that caution.
  2. Having been in rehab medicine for much of my early career, I feel it is good to occasionally point out how important this sector often neglected part of healthcare can be. Rehab medicine has been a sensible form of multidisciplinary, integrative healthcare long before the enthusiasts of so-called alternative medicine jumped on the integrative bandwagon.

Lumbosacral Radicular Syndrome (LSRS) is a condition characterized by pain radiating in one or more dermatomes (Radicular Pain) and/or the presence of neurological impairments (Radiculopathy). So far, different reviews have investigated the effect of HVLA (high-velocity low-amplitude) spinal manipulations in LSRS. However, these studies included ‘mixed’ population samples (LBP patients with or without LSRS) and treatments other than HVLA spinal manipulations (e.g., mobilisation, soft tissue treatment, etc.). Hence, the efficacy of HVLAT in LSRS is yet to be fully understood.

This review investigated the effect and safety of HVLATs on pain, levels of disability, and health-related quality of life in LSRS, as well as any possible adverse events.

Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) published in English in the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE (PubMed), EMBASE, PEDro, and Web of Science were identified. RCTs on an adult population (18-65 years) with LSRS that compared HVLATs with other non-surgical treatments, sham spinal manipulation, or no intervention were considered. Two authors selected the studies, extracted the data, and assessed the methodological quality through the ‘Risk of Bias (RoB) Tool 2.0’ and the certainty of the evidence through the ‘GRADE tool’. A meta-analysis was performed to quantify the effect of HVLA on pain levels.

A total of 308 records were retrieved from the search strings. Only two studies met the inclusion criteria. Both studies were at high RoB. Two meta-analyses were performed for low back and leg pain levels. HVLA seemed to reduce the levels of low back (MD = -1.48; 95% CI = -2.45, -0.50) and lower limb (MD = -2.36; 95% CI = -3.28, -1.44) pain compared to other conservative treatments, at three months after treatment. However, high heterogeneity was found (I² = 0.0%, p = 0.735). Besides, their certainty of the evidence was ‘very low’. No adverse events were reported.

The authors stated that they cannot conclude whether HVLA spinal manipulations can be helpful for the treatment of LSRS or not. Future high-quality RCTs are needed to establish the actual effect of HVLA manipulation in this disease with adequate sample size and LSRS definition.

Chiropractors earn their living by applying HVLA thrusts to patients suffering from LSRS. One would therefore have assumed that the question of efficacy has been extensively researched and conclusively answered. It seems that one would have assumed wrongly!

Now that this is (yet again) in the open, I wonder whether chiropractors will, in the future, tell their patients while obtaining informed consent: “I plan to give you a treatment for which sound evidence is not available; it can also cause harm; and, of course, it will cost you – I hope you don’t mind.”

This systematic review was aimed at determining if there has been a change in the reporting of adverse events associated with spinal manipulation in randomized clinical trials (RCTs) since 2016.

Databases were searched from March 2016 to May 2022: MEDLINE (Ovid), Embase, CINAHL, ICL, PEDro, and Cochrane Library. The following search terms and their derivatives were adapted for each platform: spinal manipulation; chiropractic; osteopathy; physiotherapy; naprapathy; medical manipulation and clinical trial.

Domains of interest (pertaining to adverse events) included: completeness and location of reporting; nomenclature and description; spinal location and practitioner delivering manipulation; methodological quality of the studies and details of the publishing journal. Frequencies and proportions of studies reporting on each of these domains were calculated. Univariable and multivariable logistic regression models were fitted to examine the effect of potential predictors on the likelihood of studies reporting on adverse events.

There were 5399 records identified by the electronic searches, of which 154 (2.9%) were included in the analysis. Of these, 94 (61.0%) reported adverse events with only 23.4% providing an explicit description of what constituted an adverse event. Reporting of adverse events in the abstract had increased (n=29, 30.9%) while reporting in the results section had decreased (n=83, 88.3%) over the past 6 years. Spinal manipulation was delivered to 7518 participants in the included studies. No serious adverse events were reported in any of these studies.

The authors concluded that, while the current level of reporting of adverse events associated with spinal manipulation in RCTs has increased since our 2016 publication on the same topic, the level remains low and inconsistent with established standards. As such, it is imperative for authors, journal editors and administrators of clinical trial registries to ensure there is more balanced reporting of both benefits and harms in RCTs involving spinal manipulation.

In fact, it is an ethical imperative to accurately report adverse effects. Not reporting adverse effects amounts to a violation of medical research ethics. Adverse effects of spinal manipulation occur in about 50% of all patients. This means that investigators reporting significantly lower figures are likely guilty of under-reporting. And under-reporting of adverse events is also a breach of ethical standards.

My conclusion thus is that the vast majority of trials of spinal manipulation are unethical and should be discarded.

How often do we hear that chiropractic is safe because numerous trials reported no adverse events? This systematic review tested whether there has been a change in the reporting of adverse events associated with spinal manipulation in randomized clinical trials (RCTs) since 2016.

Databases were searched from March 2016 to May 2022: MEDLINE (Ovid), Embase, CINAHL, ICL, PEDro, and Cochrane Library. Domains of interest (pertaining to adverse events) included: completeness and location of reporting; nomenclature and description; spinal location and practitioner delivering manipulation; methodological quality of the studies and details of the publishing journal. Frequencies and proportions of studies reporting on each of these domains were calculated. Univariable and multivariable logistic regression models were fitted to examine the effect of potential predictors on the likelihood of studies reporting on adverse events.

5399 records were identified by the electronic searches, of which 154 (2.9%) were included in the analysis. Of these, 94 (61.0%) reported adverse events with only 23.4% providing an explicit description of what constituted an adverse event. Reporting of adverse events in the abstract has increased (n=29, 30.9%) while reporting in the results section has decreased (n=83, 88.3%) over the past 6 years. Spinal manipulation was delivered to 7518 participants in the included studies. No serious adverse events were reported in any of these studies.

The authors concluded as follows: while the current level of reporting of adverse events associated with spinal manipulation in RCTs has increased since our 2016 publication on the same topic, the level remains low and inconsistent with established standards. As such, it is imperative for authors, journal editors and administrators of clinical trial registries to ensure there is more balanced reporting of both benefits and harms in RCTs involving spinal manipulation.

This article is clearly relevant to our discussions about adverse events after spinal manipulation. However, I find it far too uncritical. This might be due to the affiliations of some of the authors:

  • Integrative Spinal Research Group, Department of Chiropractic Medicine, University Hospital Balgrist and University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
  • Department of Chiropractic, Faculty of Medicine, Health and Human Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Interestingly, the authors stated that they have no conflict of interest. Also interesting is the fact that they do not cite our paper from 2012. I, therefore, take the liberty of doing it:

Objective: To systematically review the reporting of adverse effects in clinical trials of chiropractic manipulation.

Data sources: Six databases were searched from 2000 to July 2011. Randomised clinical trials (RCTs) were considered, if they tested chiropractic manipulations against any control intervention in human patients suffering from any type of clinical condition. The selection of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers.

Results: Sixty RCTs had been published. Twenty-nine RCTs did not mention adverse effects at all. Sixteen RCTs reported that no adverse effects had occurred. Complete information on incidence, severity, duration, frequency and method of reporting of adverse effects was included in only one RCT. Conflicts of interests were not mentioned by the majority of authors.

Conclusions: Adverse effects are poorly reported in recent RCTs of chiropractic manipulations.

In percentage terms the results are similar. What is very different is that the authors of the new paper merely lament that the level remains low and inconsistent with established standards, while we make it clear in the abstract that adverse effect reporting is poor and in the paper identify this deficit as a violation against research ethics and thus as a form of scientific misconduct.

In view of all this, let me re-phrase the last sentence of the authors’ conclusion:

it is imperative for authors, journal editors, and administrators of clinical trial registries to ensure that researchers adhere to accepted ethical standards and that scientific misconduct no longer gets published.

Low back pain is the leading cause of years lived with disability globally, but most interventions have only short-lasting, small to moderate effects. Cognitive functional therapy (CFT) is an individualized approach that targets unhelpful pain-related cognitions, emotions, and behaviors that contribute to pain and disability. Movement sensor biofeedback might enhance treatment effects.

This study aimed to compare the effectiveness and economic efficiency of CFT, delivered with or without movement sensor biofeedback, with usual care for patients with chronic, disabling low back pain.

RESTORE was a randomized, three-arm, parallel-group, phase 3 trial, done in 20 primary care physiotherapy clinics in Australia. The researchers recruited adults (aged ≥18 years) with low back pain lasting more than 3 months with at least moderate pain-related physical activity limitation. Exclusion criteria were serious spinal pathology (eg, fracture, infection, or cancer), any medical condition that prevented being physically active, being pregnant or having given birth within the previous 3 months, inadequate English literacy for the study’s questionnaires and instructions, a skin allergy to hypoallergenic tape adhesives, surgery scheduled within 3 months, or an unwillingness to travel to trial sites. Participants were randomly assigned (1:1:1) via a centralized adaptive schedule to

  • usual care,
  • CFT only,
  • CFT plus biofeedback.

The primary clinical outcome was activity limitation at 13 weeks, self-reported by participants using the 24-point Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire. The primary economic outcome was quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs). Participants in both interventions received up to seven treatment sessions over 12 weeks plus a booster session at 26 weeks. Physiotherapists and patients were not masked.

Between Oct 23, 2018, and Aug 3, 2020, the researchers assessed 1011 patients for eligibility. After excluding 519 (51·3%) ineligible patients, they randomly assigned 492 (48·7%) participants; 164 (33%) to CFT only, 163 (33%) to CFT plus biofeedback, and 165 (34%) to usual care. Both interventions were more effective than usual care (CFT only mean difference –4·6 [95% CI –5·9 to –3·4] and CFT plus biofeedback mean difference –4·6 [–5·8 to –3·3]) for activity limitation at 13 weeks (primary endpoint). Effect sizes were similar at 52 weeks. Both interventions were also more effective than usual care for QALYs, and much less costly in terms of societal costs (direct and indirect costs and productivity losses; –AU$5276 [–10 529 to –24) and –8211 (–12 923 to –3500).

The authors concluded that CFT can produce large and sustained improvements for people with chronic disabling low back pain at considerably lower societal cost than that of usual care.

This is a well-designed and well-reported study. It shows that CFT is better than usual care. The effect sizes are not huge and seem similar to many other treatments for chronic LBP, including the numerous so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) options that are available.

Faced with a situation where we have virtually dozens of therapies of similar effectiveness, what should we recommend to patients? I think this question is best and most ethically answered by accounting for two other important determinants of usefulness:

  1. risk
  2. cost.

CFT is both low in risk and cost. So is therapeutic exercise. We would therefore need a direct comparison of the two to decide which is the optimal approach.

Until we have such a study, patients might just opt for one or both of them. What seems clear, meanwhile, is this: SCAM does not offer the best solution to chronic LBP. In particular, chiropractic, osteopathy, or acupuncture – which are neither low-cost nor risk-free – are, contrary to what some try so very hard to convince us of, sensible options.

Massages are experienced as agreeable by most patients. But that does not necessarily mean that it improves our quality of life. This study tests whether it does.

This study compared three massage dosing strategies among inpatients receiving palliative care consultation. It was designed as a three-armed randomized trial examining three different doses of therapist-applied massage to test change in overall quality of life (QoL) and symptoms among hospitalized adult patients receiving palliative care consultation for any indication:

  • Arm I: 10-min massage daily × 3 days;
  • Arm II: 20-min massage daily × 3 days;
  • Arm III: single 20-min massage.

The primary outcome measure was the single-item McGill QoL question. Secondary outcomes measured pain/symptoms, rating of peacefulness, and satisfaction with the intervention. Data were collected at baseline, pre-and post-treatment, and one-day post-last treatment (follow-up). Repeated measure analysis of variance and paired t-test were used to determine significant differences.

A total of 387 patients participated  (55.7 (±15.49) years old, mostly women (61.2%) and African-American (65.6%)). All three arms demonstrated within-group improvement at follow-up for McGill QoL (all P < 0.05). No significant between-group differences were found. Finally, repeated measure analyses demonstrated time to predict immediate improvement in distress (P ≤ 0.003) and pain (P ≤ 0.02) for all study arms; however, only improvement in distress was sustained at follow-up measurement in arms with three consecutive daily massages of 10 or 20 minutes.

The authors concluded that massage therapy in complex patients with advanced illness was beneficial beyond dosage. Findings support session length (10 or 20 minutes) was predictive of short-term improvements while treatment frequency (once or three consecutive days) predicted sustained improvement at follow-up.

I like this study because it teaches us an important lesson:

IF ONE DESIGNS A SILLY STUDY, ONE IS LIKELY TO ARRIVE AT A SILLY CONCLUSION.

This study does not have a proper control group. Therefore, we cannot know whether the observed outcomes were due to the different interventions or to non-specific effects such as expectation, the passing of time, etc.

The devil’s advocate conclusion of the findings is thus dramatically different from that of the authors: the results of this trial are consistent with the notion that massage has no effect on QoL, no matter how it is dosed.

This meta-analysis aimed “to provide better evidence of the efficacy of manual therapy (MT) on adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS)”.

All RCTs of MT for the management of patients with AIS were included in the present study. The treatment difference between the experimental and control group was mainly MT. The outcomes consisted of the total effective rate, the Cobb angle, and Scoliosis Research Society-22 (SRS-22) questionnaire score. Electronic database searches were conducted from database inception to July 2022, including the Cochrane Library, PubMed, Web of Science, Embase, Wanfang Data, CNKI, and VIP. The pooled data were analyzed using RevMan 5.4 software.

Four RCTs with 213 patients in the experimental groups were finally included. There are 2 studies of standalone MT in the experimental group and 3 studies of MT with identical conservative treatments in the control group. Three trials reported the total effective rate and a statistically significant difference was found (P = 0.004). Three trials reported Cobb angle; a statistical difference was found (P = 0.01). Then, sensitivity analysis showed that there was a significant difference in the additional MT subgroup (P < 0.00001) while not in the standalone MT subgroup (P = 0.41). Three trials reported SRS-22 scores (P = 0.55) without significant differences.

The authors concluded that there is insufficient data to determine the effectiveness of spinal manipulation limited by the very low quality of included studies. High-quality studies with appropriate design and follow-up periods are warranted to determine if MT may be beneficial as an adjunct therapy for AIS. Currently, there is no evidence to support spinal manipulation.

The treatment of idiopathic scoliosis depends on the age, curve size, and progression of the condition. Therapeutic options include observation, bracing, physiotherapy, and surgery. They do NOT include MT because it is neither a plausible nor effective solution to this problem. It follows that further studies are not warranted and should be discouraged.

And, even if you disagree with me here and feel that further studies might be justified, let me remind you that proper research is never aimed at providing better evidence that a therapy works (as the authors of this odd paper seem to think); it must be aimed at testing whether it is effective!

This single-blind, randomized, clinical trial was aimed at determining the long-term clinical effects of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) or mobilization (MOB) as an adjunct to neurodynamic mobilization (NM) in the management of individuals with Lumbar Disc Herniation with Radiculopathy (DHR).

Forty participants diagnosed as having a chronic DHR (≥3 months) were randomly allocated into two groups with 20 participants each in the SMT and MOB groups.

Participants in the SMT group received high-velocity, low-amplitude manipulation, while those in the MOB group received Mulligans’ spinal mobilization with leg movement. Each treatment group also received NM as a co-intervention, administered immediately after the SMT and MOB treatment sessions. Each group received treatment twice a week for 12 weeks.

The following outcomes were measured at baseline, 6, 12, 26, and 52 weeks post-randomization; back pain, leg pain, activity limitation, sciatica bothersomeness, sciatica frequency, functional mobility, quality of life, and global effect. The primary outcomes were pain and activity limitation at 12 weeks post-randomization.

The results indicate that the MOB group improved significantly better than the SMT group in all outcomes (p < 0.05), and at all timelines (6, 12, 26, and 52 weeks post-randomization), except for sensory deficit at 52 weeks, and reflex and motor deficits at 12 and 52 weeks. These improvements were also clinically meaningful for neurodynamic testing and sensory deficits at 12 weeks, back pain intensity at 6 weeks, and for activity limitation, functional mobility, and quality of life outcomes at 6, 12, 26, and 52 weeks of follow-ups. The risk of being improved at 12 weeks post-randomization was 40% lower (RR = 0.6, CI = 0.4 to 0.9, p = 0.007) in the SMT group compared to the MOB group.

The authors concluded that this study found that individuals with DHR demonstrated better improvements when treated with MOB plus NM than when treated with SMT plus NM. These improvements were also clinically meaningful for activity limitation, functional mobility, and quality of life outcomes at long-term follow-up.

Yet again, I find it hard to resist playing the devil’s advocate: had the researchers added a third group with sham-MOB, they would have perhaps found that this group would have recovered even faster. In other words, this study might show that SMT is no good for DHR (which I find unsurprising), but it does NOT demonstrate MOB to be an effective therapy.

Low back pain (LBP) affects almost all of us at some stage. It is so common that it has become one of the most important indications for most forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). In the discussions about the value (or otherwise) of SCAMs for LBP, we sometimes forget that there are many conventional medical options to treat LBP. It is therefore highly relevant to ask how effective they are. This overview aimed to summarise the evidence from Cochrane Reviews of the efficacy, effectiveness, and safety of systemic pharmacological interventions for adults with non‐specific LBP.

The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews was searched from inception to 3 June 2021, to identify reviews of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that investigated systemic pharmacological interventions for adults with non‐specific LBP. Two authors independently assessed eligibility, extracted data, and assessed the quality of the reviews and certainty of the evidence using the AMSTAR 2 and GRADE tools. The review focused on placebo comparisons and the main outcomes were pain intensity, function, and safety.

Seven Cochrane Reviews that included 103 studies (22,238 participants) were included. There was high confidence in the findings of five reviews, moderate confidence in one, and low confidence in the findings of another. The reviews reported data on six medicines or medicine classes: paracetamol, non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines, opioids, and antidepressants. Three reviews included participants with acute or sub‐acute LBP and five reviews included participants with chronic LBP.

Acute LBP

Paracetamol

There was high‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference between paracetamol and placebo for reducing pain intensity (MD 0.49 on a 0 to 100 scale (higher scores indicate worse pain), 95% CI ‐1.99 to 2.97), reducing disability (MD 0.05 on a 0 to 24 scale (higher scores indicate worse disability), 95% CI ‐0.50 to 0.60), and increasing the risk of adverse events (RR 1.07, 95% CI 0.86 to 1.33).

NSAIDs

There was moderate‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring NSAIDs compared to placebo at reducing pain intensity (MD ‐7.29 on a 0 to 100 scale (higher scores indicate worse pain), 95% CI ‐10.98 to ‐3.61), high‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference for reducing disability (MD ‐2.02 on a 0‐24 scale (higher scores indicate worse disability), 95% CI ‐2.89 to ‐1.15), and very low‐certainty evidence for no evidence of an increased risk of adverse events (RR 0.86, 95% CI 0. 63 to 1.18).

Muscle relaxants and benzodiazepines

There was moderate‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring muscle relaxants compared to placebo for a higher chance of pain relief (RR 0.58, 95% CI 0.45 to 0.76), and higher chance of improving physical function (RR 0.55, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.77), and increased risk of adverse events (RR 1.50, 95% CI 1. 14 to 1.98).

Opioids

None of the included Cochrane Reviews aimed to identify evidence for acute LBP.

Antidepressants

No evidence was identified by the included reviews for acute LBP.

Chronic LBP

Paracetamol

No evidence was identified by the included reviews for chronic LBP.

NSAIDs

There was low‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring NSAIDs compared to placebo for reducing pain intensity (MD ‐6.97 on a 0 to 100 scale (higher scores indicate worse pain), 95% CI ‐10.74 to ‐3.19), reducing disability (MD ‐0.85 on a 0‐24 scale (higher scores indicate worse disability), 95% CI ‐1.30 to ‐0.40), and no evidence of an increased risk of adverse events (RR 1.04, 95% CI ‐0.92 to 1.17), all at intermediate‐term follow‐up (> 3 months and ≤ 12 months postintervention).

Muscle relaxants and benzodiazepines

There was low‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring benzodiazepines compared to placebo for a higher chance of pain relief (RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.54 to 0.93), and low‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference between muscle relaxants and placebo in the risk of adverse events (RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.67 to 1.57).

Opioids

There was high‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring tapentadol compared to placebo at reducing pain intensity (MD ‐8.00 on a 0 to 100 scale (higher scores indicate worse pain), 95% CI ‐1.22 to ‐0.38), moderate‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring strong opioids for reducing pain intensity (SMD ‐0.43, 95% CI ‐0.52 to ‐0.33), low‐certainty evidence for a medium between‐group difference favouring tramadol for reducing pain intensity (SMD ‐0.55, 95% CI ‐0.66 to ‐0.44) and very low‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring buprenorphine for reducing pain intensity (SMD ‐0.41, 95% CI ‐0.57 to ‐0.26).

There was moderate‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring strong opioids compared to placebo for reducing disability (SMD ‐0.26, 95% CI ‐0.37 to ‐0.15), moderate‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring tramadol for reducing disability (SMD ‐0.18, 95% CI ‐0.29 to ‐0.07), and low‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference favouring buprenorphine for reducing disability (SMD ‐0.14, 95% CI ‐0.53 to ‐0.25).

There was low‐certainty evidence for a small between‐group difference for an increased risk of adverse events for opioids (all types) compared to placebo; nausea (RD 0.10, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.14), headaches (RD 0.03, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.05), constipation (RD 0.07, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.11), and dizziness (RD 0.08, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.11).

Antidepressants

There was low‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference for antidepressants (all types) compared to placebo for reducing pain intensity (SMD ‐0.04, 95% CI ‐0.25 to 0.17) and reducing disability (SMD ‐0.06, 95% CI ‐0.40 to 0.29).

The authors concluded as follows: we found no high‐ or moderate‐certainty evidence that any investigated pharmacological intervention provided a large or medium effect on pain intensity for acute or chronic LBP compared to placebo. For acute LBP, we found moderate‐certainty evidence that NSAIDs and muscle relaxants may provide a small effect on pain, and high‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference between paracetamol and placebo. For safety, we found very low‐ and high‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference with NSAIDs and paracetamol compared to placebo for the risk of adverse events, and moderate‐certainty evidence that muscle relaxants may increase the risk of adverse events. For chronic LBP, we found low‐certainty evidence that NSAIDs and very low‐ to high‐certainty evidence that opioids may provide a small effect on pain. For safety, we found low‐certainty evidence for no evidence of difference between NSAIDs and placebo for the risk of adverse events, and low‐certainty evidence that opioids may increase the risk of adverse events.

This is an important overview, in my opinion. It confirms what I and others have been stating for decades: WE CURRENTLY HAVE NO IDEAL SOLUTION TO LBP.

This is regrettable but true. It begs the question of what one should recommend to LBP sufferers. Here too, I have to repeat myself: (apart from staying as active as possible) the optimal therapy is the one that has the most favourable risk/benefit profile (and does not cost a fortune). And this option is not drugs, chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture, or any other SCAM – it is (physio)therapeutic exercise which is cheap, safe, and (mildly) effective.

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