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Bed rest ineffective for sciatica

PainSci » bibliography » Vroomen et al 1999
Tags: back pain, neuropathy, sciatica, radiculopathy, leg, pain problems, spine, pain, buttocks, hip, herniation, limbs

Four pages on PainSci cite Vroomen 1999: 1. Mobilize!2. How to Treat Sciatic Nerve Pain3. The Complete Guide to Low Back Pain4. The Art of Rest

PainSci commentary on Vroomen 1999: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

In this sciatica study, researchers assigned 183 subjects “either bed rest or watchful waiting” for two weeks and found that “bed rest is not a more effective therapy than watchful waiting.” Nor is it less effective. The results were exactly the same. If that sounds like no big deal, consider the difference in the lives of those patients: two weeks of bed rest, compared to two weeks of going about your business!

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

BACKGROUND AND METHODS: Bed rest is widely advocated for sciatica, but its effectiveness has not been established. To study the effectiveness of bed rest in patients with a lumbosacral radicular syndrome of sufficient severity to justify treatment with bed rest for two weeks, we randomly assigned 183 subjects to either bed rest or watchful waiting for this period. The primary outcome measures were the investigator's and patient's global assessments of improvement after 2 and 12 weeks, and the secondary outcome measures were changes in functional status and in pain scores (after 2, 3, and 12 weeks), absenteeism from work, and the need for surgical intervention. Neither the investigators who assessed the outcomes nor those involved in data entry and analysis were aware of the patients' treatment assignments.

RESULTS: After two weeks, 64 of the 92 patients in the bed-rest group (70 percent) reported improvement, as compared with 59 of the 91 patients in the control (watchful-waiting) group (65 percent) (adjusted odds ratio for improvement in the bed-rest group, 1.2; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.6 to 2.3). After 12 weeks, 87 percent of the patients in both groups reported improvement. The results of assessments of the intensity of pain, the bothersomeness of symptoms, and functional status revealed no significant differences between the two groups. The extent of absenteeism from work and rates of surgical intervention were similar in the two groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Among patients with symptoms and signs of a lumbosacral radicular syndrome, bed rest is not a more effective therapy than watchful waiting.

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