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bibliography * The PainScience Bibliography contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers and others sources, like a specialized blog. This page is about a single scientific paper in the bibliography, Traeger 2018.

Effect of Intensive Patient Education vs Placebo Patient Education on Outcomes in Patients With Acute Low Back Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial


Tags: back pain, mind, bad news, pain problems, spine

PainSci summary of Traeger 2018?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 at the bottom of the page, as often as possible. ★★★★☆?4-star ratings are for bigger/better studies and reviews published in more prestigious journals, with only quibbles. Ratings are a highly subjective opinion, and subject to revision at any time. If you think this paper has been incorrectly rated, please let me know.

Pain education performed no better than a placebo for back pain patients in this well-designed trial.

A lot of people have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this! It was a clear negative result about a prominent, popular, controversial treatment method. Lots to unpack! 🍿

And it is unpacked with class and nuance by Dr. Lorimer Moseley , who has a lot of “skin in the game” on this topic. As usual, he is whimsical and humble, and he clearly acknowledges that the method he pioneered has performed poorly on its first major test:

”I share Adrian’s disappointment here. I thought we might – my clinical experience and our audit data strongly suggested it was a good bet. But alas I was wrong – we clearly haven’t found the perfect treatment for back pain yet. We clearly need to check ourselves here and knuckle down for a new direction.”

That said, he also thinks the study was inconclusive (which is fair enough for now) and he’s not giving up on his approach yet:

“I remain of the view that if people in pain actually understand pain better they will be better off for it.”

original abstractAbstracts 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.

IMPORTANCE: Many patients with acute low back pain do not recover with basic first-line care (advice, reassurance, and simple analgesia, if necessary). It is unclear whether intensive patient education improves clinical outcomes for those patients already receiving first-line care.

OBJECTIVE: To determine the effectiveness of intensive patient education for patients with acute low back pain.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial recruited patients from general practices, physiotherapy clinics, and a research center in Sydney, Australia, between September 10, 2013, and December 2, 2015. Trial follow-up was completed in December 17, 2016. Primary care practitioners invited 618 patients presenting with acute low back pain to participate. Researchers excluded 416 potential participants. All of the 202 eligible participants had low back pain of fewer than 6 weeks' duration and a high risk of developing chronic low back pain according to Predicting the Inception of Chronic Pain (PICKUP) Tool, a validated prognostic model. Participants were randomized in a 1:1 ratio to either patient education or placebo patient education.

INTERVENTIONS: All participants received recommended first-line care for acute low back pain from their usual practitioner. Participants received additional 2 × 1-hour sessions of patient education (information on pain and biopsychosocial contributors plus self-management techniques, such as remaining active and pacing) or placebo patient education (active listening, without information or advice).

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: The primary outcome was pain intensity (11-point numeric rating scale) at 3 months. Secondary outcomes included disability (24-point Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire) at 1 week, and at 3, 6, and 12 months.

RESULTS: Of 202 participants randomized for the trial, the mean (SD) age of participants was 45 (14.5) years and 103 (51.0%) were female. Retention rates were greater than 90% at all time points. Intensive patient education was not more effective than placebo patient education at reducing pain intensity (3-month mean [SD] pain intensity: 2.1 [2.4] vs 2.4 [2.2]; mean difference at 3 months, -0.3 [95% CI, -1.0 to 0.3]). There was a small effect of intensive patient education on the secondary outcome of disability at 1 week (mean difference, -1.6 points on a 24-point scale [95% CI, -3.1 to -0.1]) and 3 months (mean difference, -1.7 points, [95% CI, -3.2 to -0.2]) but not at 6 or 12 months.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Adding 2 hours of patient education to recommended first-line care for patients with acute low back pain did not improve pain outcomes. Clinical guideline recommendations to provide complex and intensive support to high-risk patients with acute low back pain may have been premature.

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