Background: Chiropractors commonly use a combination of interventions to treat people with low-back pain (LBP).
Objectives: To determine the effects of combined chiropractic interventions (that is, a combination of therapies, other than spinal manipulation alone) on pain, disability, back-related function, overall improvement, and patient satisfaction in adults with LBP, aged 18 and older.
Search strategy: We searched: The Cochrane Back Review Group Trials Register (May 2009), CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2009, Issue 2), and MEDLINE (from January 1966), EMBASE (from January 1980), CINAHL (from January 1982), MANTIS (from Inception) and the Index to Chiropractic Literature (from Inception) to May 2009. We also screened references of identified articles and contacted chiropractic researchers.
Selection criteria: All randomised trials comparing the use of combined chiropractic interventions (rather than spinal manipulation alone) with no treatment or other therapies.
Data collection and analysis: At least two review authors selected studies, assessed the risk of bias, and extracted the data using standardised forms. Both descriptive synthesis and meta-analyses were performed.
Main results: We included 12 studies involving 2887 participants with LBP. Three studies had low risk of bias. Included studies evaluated a range of chiropractic procedures in a variety of sub-populations of people with LBP.No trials were located of combined chiropractic interventions compared to no treatment. For acute and subacute LBP, chiropractic interventions improved short- and medium-term pain (SMD -0.25 (95% CI -0.46 to -0.04) and MD -0.89 (95%CI -1.60 to -0.18)) compared to other treatments, but there was no significant difference in long-term pain (MD -0.46 (95% CI -1.18 to 0.26)). Short-term improvement in disability was greater in the chiropractic group compared to other therapies (SMD -0.36 (95% CI -0.70 to -0.02)). However, the effect was small and all studies contributing to these results had high risk of bias. There was no difference in medium- and long-term disability. No difference was demonstrated for combined chiropractic interventions for chronic LBP and for studies that had a mixed population of LBP.
Authors' conclusions: Combined chiropractic interventions slightly improved pain and disability in the short-term and pain in the medium-term for acute and subacute LBP. However, there is currently no evidence that supports or refutes that these interventions provide a clinically meaningful difference for pain or disability in people with LBP when compared to other interventions. Future research is very likely to change the estimate of effect and our confidence in the results.