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Back Pain Treatment Cuts Work Absences by Half

Update Date: Mar 12, 2014 01:45 PM EDT

Low back pain can greatly affect people's ability to get up in the morning and head into work. When people are forced to skip work, productivity levels fall. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of providing targeted back pain care. The team discovered that this kind of treatment, known as stratified care, can cut work absences by 50 percent and does not increase healthcare costs.

For this study, the research team from the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Center at Keele University examined medical data on 922 patients from five different primary care offices in Cheshire. The researchers discovered that stratified care, which is when doctors use a screening tool to group their patients according to low, medium or high risk for persistent disability in order to treat them accordingly, can be effective.

This type of treatment helped improve people's physical function and satisfaction level. The patients were able to go to work more often and reported fewer fear avoidance beliefs. The researchers also discovered that patients who received stratified care were also given non-steroidal anti-inflammatory prescription drugs less often.

"We have shown that this approach to stratifying care can be implemented in general practice, leading to better outcomes for patients, reductions in work absence and more targeted use of health care resource without increasing health care costs. As a result we believe that stratification should be implemented more widely across primary care in the UK. This research is particularly timely given that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is currently reviewing national guidance for the management of back pain patients," Professor Nadine Foster said according to Medical Xpress.

The screening tool that the researchers used was the STarT Back, which is a nine-item questionnaire that patients fill out during their doctor's appointment. It was designed so that patients get personalized and targeted care depending on their back pain severity.

The study was published in journal Annals of Family Medicine.

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