Relief of back pain won’t come from a smartphone app

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Smartphone applications are good for counting steps—but not treating back pain. In a study, published in Best Practice & Research: Clinical Rheumatology, researchers from the University of Sydney evaluated apps in reducing back pain.

The study analyzed 61 apps specifically designed to assist users in managing back pain. Researchers evaluated the apps content, functionality and quality to measure overall effectiveness.

"Treatment guidelines often recommend self-management for the symptoms of back pain, and mobile apps can represent a useful and convenient way to help people manage their own condition, however, consumers need to be aware that there is minimal regulatory control over their content," said lead researcher Gustavo Machado from the University's School of Public Health.

Results showed that although most apps had recommendation aligned with the 2016 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) treatment guidelines, the quality of information was poor and had not been evaluated for effectiveness in treating back pain.

"In this study, apps generally offered questionable and poorquality information, lacked engaging and customizable features, and had poor visual appeal and questionable credibility,” said Machado. "Developers usually claim that consumers could rapidly improve their back pain symptoms by following their exercise programs. However, none of the apps have been directly tested for their effectiveness, and only very few provide the educational content and information that is key to guideline recommendations.”