Background: Non-specific low back pain (NSLBP) is a large and costly problem. It has a lifetime prevalence of 80% and results in high levels of healthcare cost. It is a major cause for long term sickness amongst the workforce and is associated with high levels of fear avoidance and kinesiophobia. Stabilisation (or 'core stability') exercises have been suggested to reduce symptoms of pain and disability and form an effective treatment. Despite it being the most commonly used form of physiotherapy treatment within the UK there is a lack of positive evidence to support its use. The aims of this systematic review update is to investigate the effectiveness of stabilisation exercises for the treatment of NSLBP, and compare any effectiveness to other forms of exercise.
Methods: A systematic review published in 2008 was updated with a search of PubMed, CINAHL, AMED, Pedro and The Cochrane Library, October 2006 to October 2013. Two authors independently selected studies, and two authors independently extracted the data. Methodological quality was evaluated using the PEDro scale. Meta-analysis was carried out when appropriate.
Results: 29 studies were included: 22 studies (n = 2,258) provided post treatment effect on pain and 24 studies (n = 2,359) provided post treatment effect on disability. Pain and disability scores were transformed to a 0 to 100 scale. Meta-analysis showed significant benefit for stabilisation exercises versus any alternative treatment or control for long term pain and disability with mean difference of -6.39 (95% CI -10.14 to -2.65) and -3.92 (95% CI -7.25 to -0.59) respectively. The difference between groups was clinically insignificant. When compared with alternative forms of exercise, there was no statistical or clinically significant difference. Mean difference for pain was -3.06 (95% CI -6.74 to 0.63) and disability -1.89 (95% CI -5.10 to 1.33).
Conclusion: There is strong evidence stabilisation exercises are not more effective than any other form of active exercise in the long term. The low levels of heterogeneity and large number of high methodological quality of available studies, at long term follow-up, strengthen our current findings, and further research is unlikely to considerably alter this conclusion.