Exercise alone and exercise combined with education both prevent episodes of low back pain and related absenteeism: systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) aimed at preventing back pain

Br J Sports Med. 2020 Jul;54(13):766-770. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100035. Epub 2019 Oct 31.


Objectives: We aimed to investigate which prevention strategies for low back pain (LBP) are most effective.

Design: We completed a Bayesian network meta-analysis to summarise the comparative effectiveness of LBP prevention strategies. The primary outcomes were an episode of LBP and LBP-associated work absenteeism represented as ORs with associated 95% credibility intervals (CrIs). We ranked all prevention strategies with surface under the cumulative ranking curve (SUCRA) analysis.

Data sources: PubMed, EMBASE and CENTRAL databases were searched along with manual searches of retrieved articles. We only included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that reported an episode of LBP and/or LBP-associated work absenteeism evaluating LBP prevention strategies were included.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies: Data were independently extracted by two investigators, and RCT quality was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool.

Results and summary: Forty RCTs were included. Exercise combined with education (OR: 0.59, CrI: 0.41 to 0.82) and exercise alone (OR: 0.59, CrI: 0.36 to 0.92) both prevented LBP episodes; exercise combined with education and education alone both had large areas under the curve (SUCRA: 81.3 and 79.4, respectively). Additionally, exercise (OR: 0.04, CrI: 0.00 to 0.34) prevented LBP-associated work absenteeism, with exercise and the combination of exercise and education ranking highest (SUCRA: 99.0 and 60.2, respectively).

Conclusions: Exercise alone and exercise combined with education can prevent episodes of LBP and LBP-related absenteeism.

Trial registration number: PROSPERO 42017056884.

Keywords: back; meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / prevention & control*
  • Network Meta-Analysis
  • Patient Education as Topic*