A new app called selfBACK can help patients deal with their back pain, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (1). Over 400 participants in a clinical trial in Norway and Denmark reported better results with the app compared to standard treatments.
Back pain is one of the most common causes of sick leave, and it costs the economy billions every year. While experiencing back pain, most patients avoid any forms of exercise and reduce their activity level, which only aggravates the situation.
But lack of exercise is not the best course of action. On the contrary, some specific activities go a long way to reduce this type of pain, but it can be difficult for patients to get the right help. “We can do a lot ourselves to reduce back pain through exercise and lifestyle adjustments,” said Prof Paul Jarle Mork from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Department of Public Health and Nursing. “A better understanding of the possible causes of back ailments also provides a better starting point for dealing with the pain on your own. However, self-management can be difficult to implement without any kind of help or support along the way.”
Now, Prof Mork and a team of researchers from the UK, Denmark and Norway developed a new app called SelfBACK to help patients suffering from long-term back pain. The app aims to enable these patients to understand their pain by providing tailored feedback and advice, as well as types of suitable physical activity and exercises.
When logging in for the first time, each patient has to answer a few questions on the app, including about their lifestyle and severity of back pain. The AI system behind the app then develops a customised plan for each patient based on a comparison with previous users and the results they’ve achieved. After this first “consultation”, the app provides a weekly plan of exercises to follow.
To test the app’s efficacy, the team conducted a trial with 461 patients from Norway and Denmark. To establish a comparison, half the participants received standard care from their health providers and the rest used selfBACK. After three months, more than half of the participants who used the app reported significant improvements, while only a third of the control group felt better with their back pain.
It has taken the team five years to get to this stage, but the results seem very promising. The regular use of the app – possibly as a supplement to other treatments – helps patients gain some relief from their back pain. “Hundreds of health apps are already available for mobile phones. But the selfBACK app stands out by being based on sound scientific evidence,” concluded Prof Mork.
(1) Sandal L, Bach K, Øverås C, Svendsen M, Dalager T, Jensen J, Kongsvold A, Nordstoga A, Bardal E, Ashikhmin I, Wood K, Rasmussen C, Stochkendahl M, Nicholl B, Wiratunga N, Cooper K, Hartvigsen J, Kjær P, Sjøgaard G, Nilsen T, Mair F, Søgaard F, Mork P (2021) Effectiveness of App-Delivered, Tailored Self-management Support for Adults With Lower Back Pain–Related DisabilityA selfBACK Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Internal Medicine. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.4097