Back schools for nonspecific low back pain: A systematic review within the framework of the Cochrane Collaboration Back Review Group

Martin W. Heymans, M. W. Van Tulder, R. Esmail, C. Bombardier, B. W. Koes

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Study Design. A systematic review within the Cochrane Collaboration Back Review Group. Objectives. To assess the effectiveness of back schools for patients with nonspecific low back pain (LBP). Summary of Background Data. Since the introduction of the Swedish back school in 1969, back schools have frequently been used for treating patients with LBP. However, the content of back schools has changed and appears to vary widely today. Methods. We searched the MEDLINE and EMBASE databases and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials to November 2004 for relevant trials reported in English, Dutch, French, or German. We also screened references from relevant reviews and included trials. Randomized controlled trials that reported on any type of back school for nonspecific LBP were included. Four reviewers, blinded to authors, institution, and journal, independently extracted the data and assessed the quality of the trials. We set the high-quality level, a priori, at a trial meeting six or more of 11 internal validity criteria. Because data were clinically and statistically too heterogeneous to perform a meta-analysis, we used a qualitative review (best evidence synthesis) to summarize the results. The evidence was classified into four levels (strong, moderate, limited, or no evidence), taking into account the methodologic quality of the studies. We also evaluated the clinical relevance of the studies. Results. Nineteen randomized controlled trials (3,584 patients) were included in this updated review. Overall, the methodologic quality was low, with only six trials considered to be high-quality. It was not possible to perform relevant subgroup analyses for LBP with radiation versus LBP without radiation. The results indicate that there is moderate evidence suggesting that back schools have better short- and intermediate-term effects on pain and functional status than other treatments for patients with recurrent and chronic LBP. There is moderate evidence suggesting that back schools for chronic LBP in an occupational setting are more effective than other treatments and placebo or waiting list controls on pain, functional status, and return to work during short- and intermediate-term follow-up. In general, the clinical relevance of the studies was rated as insufficient. Conclusion. There is moderate evidence suggesting that back schools, in an occupational setting, reduce pain and improve function and return-to-work status, in the short- and intermediate-term, compared with exercises, manipulation, myofascial therapy, advice, placebo, or waiting list controls, for patients with chronic and recurrent LBP. However, future trials should improve methodologic quality and clinical relevance and evaluate the cost-effectiveness of back schools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2153-2163
Number of pages11
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2005


  • Back scoliosis
  • Clinical relevance
  • Cochrane Collaboration
  • Effectiveness
  • Low back pain
  • Systematic review

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