Randomized controlled trials reflected clinical practice when comparing the course of low back pain symptoms in similar populations

Esther T. Maas, Johanna M. van Dongen, Johan N.S. Juch, J. George Groeneweg, Jan Willem Kallewaard, Michiel R. de Boer, Bart Koes, Arianne P. Verhagen, Frank J.P.M. Huygen, Maurits W. van Tulder, Raymond W.J.G. Ostelo

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OBJECTIVE: This study compares participants in RCTs (the MinT-trials) to participants in a related observational study with regards to their low back pain (LBP) symptom course.

DESIGN: & Setting: Eligible patients were diagnosed with chronic LBP originating from the facet joints (N=615) or sacroiliac (SI)-joints (N=533), and were treated with radiofrequency (RF) denervation and an exercise programme. Randomised patients were compared to patients in the related observational study who fulfilled all RCT eligibility criteria (observational group 1), and to patients who did not fulfil at least one of the RCT eligibility criteria (observational group 2). Outcomes were pain intensity, treatment success, and functional status over a three-month period. Longitudinal mixed-model analyses and linear regression models were applied to analyse the differences in outcomes between the RCT and observational study groups.

RESULTS: No differences in symptom course were found between patients in the RCTs and patients in observational group 1. Patients with facet joint pain in observational group 2 had overall less treatment success (OR 0.67; 95%CI 0.50-0.90), and less improvement in physical functioning (MD 5.82; 95%CI 2.54-9.11) compared to the RCT patients. Patients with SI-joint pain in observational group 2 had higher pain scores (MD 0.40; 95%CI 0.09-0.72), less treatment success (OR 0.72; 95%CI 0.54-0.96), and less improvement in physical functioning (MD 7.16; 95%CI 3.84-10.47) compared to the RCT patients.

CONCLUSION: This supports the generalizability of results from the MinT RCTs as this study suggests that these RCTs reflect clinical practice when comparing similar populations. To what extent this holds true for all RCTs in low back pain should be further explored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-132
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
Early online date16 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Clinical practice
  • Low back pain
  • Observational study
  • Radiofrequency denervation
  • Randomized controlled trial

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