Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians
Via the Annals of Internal Medicine, 2.14.17
Low back pain is one of the most common reasons for physician visits in the United States. Most Americans have experienced low back pain, and approximately one quarter of U.S. adults reported having low back pain lasting at least 1 day in the past 3 months (1). Low back pain is associated with high costs, including those related to health care and indirect costs from missed work or reduced productivity (2). The total costs attributable to low back pain in the United States were estimated at $100 billion in 2006, two thirds of which were indirect costs of lost wages and productivity (3).
Low back pain is frequently classified and treated on the basis of symptom duration, potential cause, presence or absence of radicular symptoms, and corresponding anatomical or radiographic abnormalities. Acute back pain is defined as lasting less than 4 weeks, subacute back pain lasts 4 to 12 weeks, and chronic back pain lasts more than 12 weeks. Radicular low back pain results in lower extremity pain, paresthesia, and/or weakness and is a result of nerve root impingement. Most patients with acute back pain have self-limited episodes that resolve on their own; many do not seek medical care (4). For patients who do seek medical care, pain, disability, and return to work typically improve rapidly in the first month (5). However, up to one third of patients report persistent back pain of at least moderate intensity 1 year after an acute episode, and 1 in 5 report substantial limitations in activity (6). Many noninvasive treatment options are available for radicular and nonradicular low back pain, including pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic interventions.
Guideline Focus and Target Population
The purpose of this American College of Physicians (ACP) guideline is to provide treatment guidance based on the efficacy, comparative effectiveness, and safety of noninvasive pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic treatments for acute (<4 weeks), subacute (4 to 12 weeks), and chronic (>12 weeks) low back pain in primary care. This guideline does not address topical pharmacologic therapies or epidural injection therapies. It serves as a partial update of the 2007 ACP guideline (it excludes evidence on diagnosis). These recommendations are based on 2 background evidence reviews (7, 8) and a systematic review sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) (9). The target audience for this guideline includes all clinicians, and the target patient population includes adults with acute, subacute, or chronic low back pain.
Systematic Review of the Evidence
The evidence review was conducted by the AHRQ’s Pacific Northwest Evidence-based Practice Center. Additional methodological details can be found in the Appendix as well as in the accompanying articles (7, 8) and full report (9). Reviewers searched several databases for studies published in English from January 2008 through April 2015 and updated the search through November 2016. Studies published before 2007 were identified using the 2007 ACP/American Pain Society (APS) systematic reviews (10, 11). Reviewers combined data when possible using meta-analysis and assessed risk of bias and study quality according to established methods. The study population included adults (aged ≥18 years) with acute, subacute, or chronic nonradicular low back pain, radicular low back pain, or symptomatic spinal stenosis.
The review evaluated pharmacologic (acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs], opioids, skeletal muscle relaxants [SMRs], benzodiazepines, antidepressants, antiseizure medications, and systemic corticosteroids) and nonpharmacologic (psychological therapies, multidisciplinary rehabilitation, spinal manipulation, acupuncture, massage, exercise and related therapies, and various physical modalities) treatments for low back pain. Evaluated outcomes included reduction or elimination of low back pain, improvement in back-specific and overall function, improvement in health-related quality of life, reduction in work disability, return to work, global improvement, number of back pain episodes or time between episodes, patient satisfaction, and adverse effects.
The magnitude of effect (small, moderate, or large) was determined as previously described (10, 11). A small effect on pain was defined as a mean between-group difference after treatment of 5 to 10 points on a visual analogue scale of 0 to 100 or equivalent, a mean between-group difference of 0.5 to 1.0 point on a numerical rating scale of 0 to 10, or a standardized mean difference of 0.2 to 0.5. A moderate effect was defined as a mean between-group difference of greater than 10 to no more than 20 points on a visual analogue scale of 0 to 100 or equivalent, a mean between-group difference of greater than 1.0 to no more than 2.0 points on a numerical rating scale of 0 to 10 or equivalent, or a standardized mean difference greater than 0.5 but no more than 0.8. For function, a small effect was defined as a mean between-group difference of 5 to 10 points on the Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), a mean between-group difference of 1 to 2 points on the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (RDQ), or a standardized mean difference of 0.2 to 0.5. A moderate effect on function was defined as a mean between-group difference of greater than 10 to no more than 20 points on the ODI, a mean between-group difference of greater than 2 to no more than 5 points on the RDQ, or a standardized mean difference greater than 0.5 but no more than 0.8. No large effects were found with any intervention.
Grading the Evidence and Developing Recommendations
This guideline was developed by ACP’s Clinical Guidelines Committee (CGC) according to ACP’s guideline development process, details of which can be found in the methods paper (12). The CGC used the evidence tables in the accompanying evidence reviews (7, 8) and full report (9) when reporting the evidence and graded the recommendations using the ACP’s guideline grading system (Table).