Abstracts of low back pain trials are poorly reported, contain spin of information and are inconsistent with the full text: An overview study

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2019 Jun 14:1976-1985.e18. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2019.03.024. Online ahead of print.


Objective: To investigate trials abstracts evaluating treatments for low back pain with regards to completeness of reporting, spin (i.e., interpretation of study results that overemphasizes the beneficial effects of the intervention), and inconsistencies in data with the full text.

Data sources: The search was performed on Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) in February 2016.

Study selection: This is an overview study of a random sample of 200 low back pain trials published between 2010 and 2015. The languages of publication were restricted to English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Data extraction: Completeness of reporting was assessed using the CONSORT for Abstracts checklist (CONSORT-A). Spin was assessed using a SPIN-checklist. Consistency between abstract and full text were assessed by applying the assessment tools to both the abstract and full text of each trial and calculating inconsistencies in the summary score (paired t test) and agreement in the classification of each item (Kappa statistics). Methodological quality was analyzed using the total PEDro score.

Data synthesis: The mean number of fully reported items for abstracts using the CONSORT-A was 5.1 (SD 2.4) out of 15 points and the mean number of items with spin was 4.9 (SD 2.6) out of 7 points. Abstract and full text scores were statistically inconsistent (P=0.01). There was slight to moderate agreement between items of the CONSORT-A in the abstracts and full text (mean Kappa 0.20 SD 0.13) and fair to moderate agreement for items of the SPIN-checklist (mean Kappa 0.47 SD 0.09).

Conclusions: The abstracts were incomplete, with spin and inconsistent with the full text. We advise health care professionals to avoid making clinical decisions based solely upon abstracts. Journal editors, reviewers and authors are jointly responsible for improving abstracts, which could be guided by amended editorial policies.

Keywords: Abstracts; Data Accuracy; Data Interpretation; Low back pain; Randomized Controlled Trials.

Publication types

  • Review