Study design: Method guidelines for systematic reviews of trials of treatments for neck and back pain.
Objective: To help review authors design, conduct and report systematic reviews of trials in this field.
Summary of background data: In 1997, the Cochrane Back Review Group published Method Guidelines for Systematic Reviews, which was updated in 2003. Since then, new methodologic evidence has emerged and standards have changed. Coupled with the upcoming revisions to the software and methods required by The Cochrane Collaboration, it was clear that revisions were needed to the existing guidelines.
Methods: The Cochrane Back Review Group editorial and advisory boards met in June 2006 to review the relevant new methodologic evidence and determine how it should be incorporated. Based on the discussion, the guidelines were revised and circulated for comment. As sections of the new Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions were made available, the guidelines were checked for consistency. A working draft was made available to review authors in The Cochrane Library 2008, issue 3.
Results: The final recommendations are divided into 7 categories: objectives, literature search, inclusion criteria, risk of bias assessment, data extraction, data analysis, and updating your review. Each recommendation is classified into minimum criteria (mandatory) and further guidance (optional). Instead of recommending Levels of Evidence, this update adopts the GRADE approach to determine the overall quality of the evidence for important patient-centered outcomes across studies and includes a new section on updating reviews.
Conclusion: Citations of previous versions of the method guidelines in published scientific articles (1997: 254 citations; 2003: 209 citations, searched February 10, 2009) suggest that others may find these guidelines useful to plan, conduct, or evaluate systematic reviews in the field of spinal disorders.