Are Back Supports Plus Education More Effective Than Education Alone in Promoting Recovery From Low Back Pain?: Results From a Randomized Clinical Trial

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Abstract

Study Design.

Randomized clinical trial.

Objectives.

To evaluate the effectiveness of a back support plus education versus education alone in promoting recovery from a work-related low back disorder (WR-LBD) while simultaneously considering personal, health, and occupational factors and the impact of occupational factors on recovery.

Summary of Background Data.

No randomized studies of active industrial workers with low back disorders exist regarding the effectiveness of back supports plus education.

Methods.

A total of 433 actively employed hourly union workers who had a recent diagnosis of a WR-LBD: 1) those who wore a specially designed back support plus received education on back health; and 2) those who received education on back health only. Demographic, health, medical, and occupational factors were obtained through interview or abstraction of computer files; individual ergonomic exposures were measured with a lumbar motion monitor. Outcomes evaluated over a 12-month period included: self-reported measures of back pain, back pain disability level, physical health, mental health, and administrative measures of recurrence, lost work time, and medical care utilization.

Results.

There was no difference between the study groups with respect to mental or physical health, low back pain, back pain disability, neurogenic symptoms, lost work time, likelihood of recurrence of an episode of a back disorder, or other administrative measures of healthcare utilization or lost work time. However, significant decreases in low back pain, low back pain disability, neurogenic symptoms, and an increase in physical health were observed over the 12 months of observation in both study groups. The only occupational variable found to influence was plant group whereby service parts operations workers in the back support plus education group experienced a lower likelihood of WR-LBD recurrence.

Conclusion.

Although there was no overall effect on self-reported recovery or administrative measures or lost work time between the study groups, a back support plus health education may have some value in preventing recurrent WR-LBD in industrial workers who work in psychosocial environments and perform manual material handling tasks similar to those found in parts distribution centers.

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