Health literacy and health outcomes in patients with low back pain: a scoping review

BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2021 Jul 13;21(1):215. doi: 10.1186/s12911-021-01572-0.


Background: Low back pain is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Health literacy has been associated with pain intensity and pain control. However, there is a paucity of evidence regarding this association. In the field of low back pain research, inconsistent reporting of outcomes has been highlighted. To address this issue a Core Outcome Set has been developed.

Objectives: The objectives of this scoping review were: (1) The health literacy measures currently employed for low back pain and the aspects of health literacy they include. (2) The low back pain health outcomes included in such work. (3) The extent to which these health outcomes reflect the Core Outcome Set for Clinical Trials in Non-Specific Low Back Pain.

Methods: The search included thirteen bibliographic databases, using medical subject heading terms for low back pain and health literacy, and followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews guidelines. The eligibility criteria were defined by the Joanna Briggs Institute PCC mnemonic. A thematic framework approach was used for analysis.

Results: The search yielded ten relevant studies for inclusion, amongst which a total of nine health literacy measures and 50 health outcome measures were used. Most health literacy measures focused on functional health literacy, with few assessing communicative and critical health literacy. The health outcomes assessed by the included studies could be broadly categorised into: Pain, Disability, Behaviour, Knowledge and Beliefs, and Resource Utilisation. Most of these outcome measures studied (36 out of 50) did not directly reflect the Core Outcome Set for Clinical Trials in Non-Specific Low Back Pain.

Conclusions: To allow for comparison across findings and the development of a rigorous evidence base, future work should include the Core Outcome Set for Clinical Trials in Non-Specific Low Back Pain. There is an urgent need to broaden the evidence-base to include regions where low back pain morbidity is high, but data is lacking. Such work demands the incorporation of comprehensive measures of health literacy that have both generic and culturally sensitive components.

Keywords: Chronic pain; Core Outcome Set; Disability; Health outcomes; Musculoskeletal conditions.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Disabled Persons*
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain* / therapy
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care