OBJECTIVE: The purpose of the study was to estimate the net effect of physical modalities on low back pain (LBP) outcomes among chiropractic patients in a managed-care setting.
METHODS: Fifty percent of the 681 patients participating in a clinical trial of LBP treatment strategies were randomized to chiropractic care with physical modalities (n = 172) or without physical modalities (n = 169). Subjects were followed for 6 months with assessments at 2, 4, and 6 weeks and at 6 months. The primary outcome variables were average and most severe LBP intensity in the past week, assessed with numerical rating scales (0-10), and low back-related disability, assessed with the 24-item Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire.
RESULTS: Almost 60% of the subjects had baseline LBP episodes of more than 3 months' duration. The 6-month follow-up was 96%. The adjusted mean differences between groups in improvements in average and most severe pain and disability were clinically insignificant at all follow-up assessments. Clinically relevant improvements in average pain and disability were more likely in the modalities group at 2 and 6 weeks, but this apparent advantage disappeared at 6 months. Perceived treatment effectiveness was greater in the modalities group.
CONCLUSIONS: Physical modalities used by chiropractors in this managed-care organization did not appear to be effective in the treatment of patients with LBP, although a small short-term benefit for some patients cannot be ruled out.
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