Objective: To assess the long-term benefits of medication, needle acupuncture, and spinal manipulation as exclusive and standardized treatment regimens in patients with chronic (>13 weeks) spinal pain syndromes.
Study design: Extended follow-up (>1 year) of a randomized clinical trial was conducted at the multidisciplinary spinal pain unit of Townsville's General Hospital between February 1999 and October 2001.
Patients and methods: Of the 115 patients originally randomized, 69 had exclusively been treated with the randomly allocated treatment during the 9-week treatment period (results at 9 weeks were reported earlier). These patients were followed up and assessed again 1 year after inception into the study reapplying the same instruments (ie, Oswestry Back Pain Index, Neck Disability Index, Short-Form-36, and Visual Analogue Scales). Questionnaires were obtained from 62 patients reflecting a retention proportion of 90%. The main analysis was restricted to 40 patients who had received exclusively the randomly allocated treatment for the whole observation period since randomization.
Results: Comparisons of initial and extended follow-up questionnaires to assess absolute efficacy showed that only the application of spinal manipulation revealed broad-based long-term benefit: 5 of the 7 main outcome measures showed significant improvements compared with only 1 item in each of the acupuncture and the medication groups.
Conclusions: In patients with chronic spinal pain syndromes, spinal manipulation, if not contraindicated, may be the only treatment modality of the assessed regimens that provides broad and significant long-term benefit.