Background context: Acute back pain and sciatica are major sources of disability. Many medical interventions are available, including manipulations, with conflicting results.
Purpose: To assess the short- and long-term effects of spinal manipulations on acute back pain and sciatica with disc protrusion.
Study design/setting: Randomized double-blind trial comparing active and simulated manipulations in rehabilitation medical centers in Rome and suburbs.
Patient sample: 102 ambulatory patients with at least moderate pain on a visual analog scale for local pain (VAS1) and/or radiating pain (VAS2).
Outcome measures: Pain-free patients at end of treatment; treatment failure (proportion of patients stopping the assigned treatment for lack of effect on pain); number of days with no, mild, moderate, or severe pain; quality of life; number of days on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; number of drug prescriptions; VAS1 and VAS2 scores; quality of life and psychosocial findings; and reduction of disc protrusion on magnetic resonance imaging.
Methods: Manipulations or simulated manipulations were done 5 days per week by experienced chiropractors, with a number of sessions which depended on pain relief or up to a maximum of 20, using a rapid thrust technique. Patients were assessed at admission and at 15, 30, 45, 90, and 180 days. At each visit, all indicators of pain relief were used.
Results: A total of 64 men and 38 women aged 19-63 years were randomized to manipulations (53) or simulated manipulations (49). Manipulations appeared more effective on the basis of the percentage of pain-free cases (local pain 28 vs. 6%; p<.005; radiating pain 55 vs. 20%; p<.0001), number of days with pain (23.6 vs. 27.4; p<.005), and number of days with moderate or severe pain (13.9 vs. 17.9; p<.05). Patients receiving manipulations had lower mean VAS1 (p<.0001) and VAS2 scores (p<.001). A significant interaction was found between therapeutic arm and time. There were no significant differences in quality of life and psychosocial scores. There were only two treatment failures (manipulation 1; simulated manipulation 1) and no adverse events.
Conclusions: Active manipulations have more effect than simulated manipulations on pain relief for acute back pain and sciatica with disc protrusion.