Aims: To examine how the choice of words explaining ultrasound (US) may influence the outcome of physiotherapy treatment for low back pain (LBP).
Methods: Sixty-seven patients with LBP < 3 months were randomly allocated to one of three groups - traditional education about US (control group [CG]), inflated education about US (experimental group [EG]) or extra-inflated education about US (extra-experimental group [EEG]). Each patient received the exact same application of US that has shown clinical efficacy for LBP (1.5 Watts/cm2 for 10 minutes at 1 Megahertz, pulsed 20% over a 20 cm2 area), but received different explanations (CG, EG or EEG). Before and immediately after US, measurements of LBP and leg pain (numeric rating scale), lumbar flexion (distance to floor) and straight leg raise (SLR) (inclinometer) were taken. Statistical analysis consisted of mixed-factorial analyses of variance and chi-square analyses to measure differences between the three groups, as well as meeting or exceeding minimal detectable changes (MDCs) for pain, lumbar flexion and SLR.
Results: Both EG and EEG groups showed a statistically significant improvement for SLR (p < 0.0001), while the CG did not. The EEG group participants were 4.4 times (95% confidence interval: 1.1 to 17.5) more likely to improve beyond the MDC than the CG. No significant differences were found between the groups for LBP, leg pain or lumbar flexion.
Conclusion: The choice of words when applying a treatment in physiotherapy can alter the efficacy of the treatment.