This news story reports on results from a recent randomized trial suggesting that strength training offers improvement in patients with chronic non-specific low back pain. Although it was not explicitly stated, it is prudent for the readers to understand that these results have not yet been published in a medical journal and have yet to undergo a formal review to ensure the methodology is sound. (See our primer on reporting news from talks at scientific meetings.) In addition, the reader is not given any context to determine the clinical significance of the results, which are presented in terms of relative benefit (rather than absolute). (See another primer on this topic.)
The story also would have been improved by including expert commentary from those unaffiliated with the trial; indicating that strengthening exercises are currently part of recommended, non-pharmacologic treatment for chronic low back pain; and providing additional discussion on the other treatment modalities for chronic back pain.
A discussion of costs would be warranted if the training took place in a physical therapy center. Since weight training is a standard treatment for patients with chronic low back pain, it would most likely be covered by insurance; however, we are not given the specifics of the treatment duration or frequency to make that assumption.
The story states that strengthening exercises increased participants’ quality of life by 28%; however, the writer does not indicate how quality of life was defined by the researchers, nor does she provide any context regarding how it was measured. Does a 28% increase in quality of life make the participants happy, able to go back to work, be satisfied with their current state? Not sure. Additionally, the story states that "more frequent training" resulted in a better outcome, but the specific frequency of exercise was not provided. There was also mention of the average number of weeks the participants needed to train before a significant benefit was realized.
While the story points out that those with lower back pain should consult their doctor before starting an exercise program, it would have been useful to point out that some patients experience increased pain, even just temporarily, with this type of program.
The story mentions that the results were recently presented at the American College of Sports Medicine meeting, but does not explicitly state that the research has yet to be published in a medical journal. Unlike published articles, this study has not gone through a rigorous review process. Additionally, the abstract submitted for the meeting only included data on the male participants. See our primer on the pitfalls of reporting on talks at scientific meetings.
The story did not exaggerate the seriousness or prevalence of chronic back pain.
Only quotes from the study’s lead investigator were provided. Commentary from additional experts in the field would have added value to the story.
The story cites a recent review article which suggests that current treatment options are "not highly successful." Specific information regarding their efficacy would have been beneficial. Incidentally, the writer states that this review was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, when in fact it was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
Though not explicitly stated, it sounds as if the weight training was done in a supervised setting such as a physical therapy center. Regardless, such equipment is generally widely available. We’re going to rule this criterion Not Applicable in this case.
The story would have benefited from pointing out that strengthening exercise, in general, is not a novel treatment modality for chronic low back pain. It is widely recommended as a non-pharmacologic option in these patients.
This story does not appear to rely on a press release.