Reviewing the Efficacy of Media Campaigns for Back Pain Self-Management

Mass media back pain education campaigns may help increase awareness of the benefits of self-management.

Mass media back pain education campaigns may help increase awareness of the benefits of self-management, according to a study published in the South African Journal of Physiotherapy.

In this systematic review of 5 trials (1 randomized controlled trial, 4 nonrandomized trials) conducted in the general population of 5 developed countries (Australia, Canada, Norway, The Netherlands, and Scotland), the reviewers assessed the randomized trial with the Physiotherapy Evidence Database scale and the nonrandomized trials with the Joanna Briggs Institute checklist.

In the reviewed studies, media campaigns consisted of messages diffused through websites, radio, television/cinema or printed advertisements, workplace visits, seminars, and publicity articles, urging people with back pain to “stay as active as possible.” Messages tended to encourage increased activity and coping strategies such as positive thinking, and dissuaded the population from getting radiographs or surgery whenever possible.

Improvements in beliefs related to back pain were observed in the general population of 4 of 5 countries (P <.001 for all but The Netherlands). The number of sick leave days and of back-related claims were both reduced by 5% during the campaign. In addition, the number of doctor visits for back pain were found to be reduced by 15% to 20%, but the rate of surgeries for back pain increased in countries with and without education campaigns. Campaigns resulted in participants wishing to remain active despite their back pain.

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Study limitations include the heterogeneity of data outcomes in included studies.

“The review findings show that the back pain campaign message ‘stay as active as possible’ increased participants’ awareness to stay active and influenced positively their health beliefs and healthcare utilization behaviors,” concluded the study authors. “The ‘stay as active as possible’ message is simple and easy to follow, which demonstrates that well-designed and simple messages have the potential to influence and promote health behavior change in populations.”

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Nkhata LA, Brink Y, Ernstzen D, Louw QA. A systematic review on self-management education campaigns for back pain. S Afr J Physiother. 2019;75:1314.