There’s an App for That: Improving Back Pain Treatment with Tech

Nan Kuhlman Nan Kuhlman October 30, 2019

Low back pain without a specific, musculoskeletal diagnosis is costly and often difficult to resolve. Up to 65 percent of patients suffering from non-specific low back pain are still trying to find help for ongoing pain even a year after the condition initially showed up. Part of the reason for this difficulty in solving low back pain is that it is a condition with possible social, psychological, and physical impacts. Researchers call this a “multidimensional condition,” and as might be expected, treatments that address all these factors have proven to be most effective.  Multidimensional pain treatments are typically only available at specialized treatment centers, and for most low back pain patients, this means long waiting lists and additional cost. However, with the development of smartphone technology, medical experts in Munich have created an app called “Kaia” which personalizes suggested daily exercises based on your fitness level and the location of your pain. It even allows you to track your progress (i.e., reduced back pain and improved sleep). A recent study shows that an app like Kaia can help patients with non-specific low back pain to reduce their pain and improve their quality of life.

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This randomized, controlled clinical trial in Germany included 48 patients in the intervention group and 46 in the control group. All had experienced non-specific low back pain for less than a year. These participants were solicited via a Facebook ad to ensure their comfort with technology. During the 12-week study, the control group’s treatment included a physiotherapy program with a certified therapist along with educational resources about back pain provided online and motivational emails sent every other week.

 

On the other hand, the intervention group used the Kaia app which offered individualized programs with strengthening exercises (including video demos), as well as helpful tips written by board-certified doctors with expertise in back pain to help prevent and properly handle back pain. Another critical component of the Kaia app was the mindfulness and relaxation techniques, including breath work, body scans, and visualizations.

Both groups improved over the 12-week period, but the intervention group that used the Kaia app reported a greater reduction in pain levels as compared to the control group. Though researchers are unsure why the app was beneficial, they hypothesize that the multidisciplinary nature of the app, with its emphasis on physical exercise, mindfulness, and prevention education, may have played a role, along with push notifications and email reminders to enhance adherence to the program. The low cost of the app, compared with the cost of physiotherapy with a certified therapist, makes it an economical treatment for patients who might be more prone to developing low back pain.

 

Successfully treating low back pain means approaching the issue from a number of angles, including physiological, psychological, and social aspects. While some medical centers provide such multidimensional care, they can be expensive and sometimes have long wait lists. If you have nonspecific low back pain, talk to your doctor to see if using an app like Kaia would be a good course of treatment for you. Doctorpedia is excited to share the good news about low back pain: there’s an app for that!

References

 

  • Toelle, T. R., Utpadel-Fischler, D. A., Haas, K. K., & Priebe, J. A. (2019). App-based multidisciplinary back pain treatment versus combined physiotherapy plus online education: a randomized controlled trial. NPJ Digital Medicine, 2(34). doi: 10.1038/s41746-019-0109-x
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Nan Kuhlman

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Nan Kuhlman has been a freelance writer for over two decades with her most recent publications appearing in the Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, Christianity Without Religion, and on the parenting website Motherly.com. She also is a contributing writer for Grace Communion International’s denominational publications and videos.

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