Pocovi NC, Lin CC, French SD, et al. Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of an individualised, progressive walking and education intervention for the prevention of low back pain recurrence in Australia (WalkBack): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2024 Jul 13;404(10448):134-144. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(24)00755-4. Epub 2024 Jun 19. (Original study)

BACKGROUND: Recurrence of low back pain is common and a substantial contributor to the disease and economic burden of low back pain. Exercise is recommended to prevent recurrence, but the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of an accessible and low-cost intervention, such as walking, is yet to be established. We aimed to investigate the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of an individualised, progressive walking and education intervention to prevent the recurrence of low back pain.

METHODS: WalkBack was a two-armed, randomised controlled trial, which recruited adults (aged 18 years or older) from across Australia who had recently recovered from an episode of non-specific low back pain that was not attributed to a specific diagnosis, and which lasted for at least 24 h. Participants were randomly assigned to an individualised, progressive walking and education intervention facilitated by six sessions with a physiotherapist across 6 months or to a no treatment control group (1:1). The randomisation schedule comprised randomly permuted blocks of 4, 6, and 8 and was stratified by history of more than two previous episodes of low back pain and referral method. Physiotherapists and participants were not masked to allocation. Participants were followed for a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of 36 months, depending on the date of enrolment. The primary outcome was days to the first recurrence of an activity-limiting episode of low back pain, collected in the intention-to-treat population via monthly self-report. Cost-effectiveness was evaluated from the societal perspective and expressed as incremental cost per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) gained. The trial was prospectively registered (ACTRN12619001134112).

FINDINGS: Between Sept 23, 2019, and June 10, 2022, 3206 potential participants were screened for eligibility, 2505 (78%) were excluded, and 701 were randomly assigned (351 to the intervention group and 350 to the no treatment control group). Most participants were female (565 [81%] of 701) and the mean age of participants was 54 years (SD 12). The intervention was effective in preventing an episode of activity-limiting low back pain (hazard ratio 0·72 [95% CI 0·60-0·85], p=0·0002). The median days to a recurrence was 208 days (95% CI 149-295) in the intervention group and 112 days (89-140) in the control group. The incremental cost per QALY gained was AU$7802, giving a 94% probability that the intervention was cost-effective at a willingness-to-pay threshold of $28 000. Although the total number of participants experiencing at least one adverse event over 12 months was similar between the intervention and control groups (183 [52%] of 351 and 190 [54%] of 350, respectively, p=0·60), there was a greater number of adverse events related to the lower extremities in the intervention group than in the control group (100 in the intervention group and 54 in the control group).

INTERPRETATION: An individualised, progressive walking and education intervention significantly reduced low back pain recurrence. This accessible, scalable, and safe intervention could affect how low back pain is managed.

FUNDING: National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia.

Discipline Area Score
Rehab Clinician (OT/PT) 6 / 7
Physician 5 / 7
Comments from MORE raters

Rehab Clinician (OT/PT) rater

As an OMPT, I believe the effects of walking in LBP are well known, but the newsworthiness of this article is about the cost/effectiveness of such an interview. This is really interesting.

Rehab Clinician (OT/PT) rater

This is a well-described study that provides evidence for the efficacy of a simple walking program following non-specific LBP. While the results were not generalizable, it is a worthy read and the suggestions for future research appropriate.
Comments from PAIN+ CPN subscribers

Ms. Heather Taylor (7/8/2024 12:49 PM)

This is an important article for clinicians and those living with intermittent back pain. It serves as a reminder of the value of education regarding self-efficacy and pain management, as well as a simple walking program. The supplementary appendix includes a table with detailed reassurance and education principles that were followed for the study. This provides excellent practical advice for clinicians.