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The Efficacy of Active Rehabilitation in Chronic Low Back Pain: Effect on Pain Intensity, Self-Experienced Disability, and Lumbar Fatigability

Kankaanpää, Markku, BM*; Taimela, Simo, MD; Airaksinen, Olavi, MD*; Hänninen, Osmo, MD, PhD

Functional Restoration

Study Design. A randomized study comparing the results of active rehabilitation and passive control treatment in patients with chronic low back pain with follow-up at 6 months and 1 year.

Objectives. To study the efficacy of active rehabilitation on pain, self-experienced disability, and lumbar fatigability.

Summary of Background Data. Exercises in an outpatient setting are widely used for the treatment of chronic low back pain. The efficacy of the active rehabilitation approach has been documented in randomized control studies, but these studies have seldom been focused on lumbar fatigability, which is now recognized as a frequent problem among patients with chronic low back pain.

Methods. Fifty-nine middle-aged patients (37 men and 22 women) with nonspecific chronic low back pain were randomly assigned to 12 weeks’ active rehabilitation or to a passive control treatment (massage, thermal therapy). Pain and disability index, low back pain intensity (visual analog scale, 100 mm), and the objectively assessed lumbar muscle fatigability (spectral electromyogram, mean power frequency slope [MPFSLOPE]) in a new 90-second submaximal isoinertial back endurance test were recorded before and after the interventions and at 6-month and 1-year follow-up visits.

Results. Results of repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance indicated that back pain intensity (visual analog scale) and functional disability (pain and disability index score) decreased, and lumbar endurance (MPFSLOPE) improved significantly more (P < 0.05) in the active rehabilitation group than in the passive control treatment group, when measured at a 1-year follow-up examination. The group difference in visual analog scale and pain and disability index changes became even more significant at the end of 1 year. The change in lumbar endurance was significantly greater in the active rehabilitation group than in the passive control treatment group at the 6-month follow-up, but not at the 1-year follow-up.

Conclusions. The active progressive treatment program was more successful in reducing pain and self-experienced disability and also in improving lumbar endurance than was the passive control treatment. However, the group difference in lumbar endurance tended to diminish at the 1-year follow-up.

From the *Department of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, Kuopio University Hospital; the †Department of Physiology, University of Kuopio, Kuopio, Finland; and ‡DBC International Ltd., Vantaa, Finland.

Supported in part by the Ministry of Education and Academy of Finland (TULES Graduate School); the Finnish Work Environmental Fund, The Finnish Medical Society Duodecim; Yrjö Jahnsson, Eemil Aaltonen, and Instrumentarium Science Foundations; and a grant (496115) from the Kuopio University EVO Fund.

Acknowledgment date: May 11, 1998.

First revision date: October 19, 1998.

Acceptance date: December 31, 1998.

Address reprint requests to

Markku Kankaanpää, BM

Department of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine

Kuopio University Hospital

P. O. Box 1777

70211 Kuopio, Finland


Device status category: 2.

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.