Study Finds Smartphone Apps Unsatisfactory for Back Pain

August 23, 2022

Lower back pain management might be problematic due to financial restrictions, scheduling conflicts for physical therapy appointments, and limited access to healthcare. That makes back pain relief smartphone applications appealing. However, a recent study published in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation indicates that there is still much work to be done by developers.

About the Study

Researchers raised a number of difficulties after examining 25 apps intended to help people with lower back problems manage their pain and increase mobility. They discovered, for instance, a lack of control surrounding suggestions as well as inaccurate information and bad guidance. They also saw that the apps only provided generic aerobic exercises and did not tailor the exercise to each user's condition. They also stated that there was no testing done or information available regarding the efficacy of these activities.

According to research co-author and PhD candidate Belinda Lange from the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Flinders University in Australia, many developers and content producers lacked a strong background in health.

"These apps don't seem to be specifically designed with self-management support and behavior change principles," Dr. Lange says. "They are of acceptable quality, but there's a need for further development."

Making Apps Work

Neel Anand, MD, director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, says that although the apps evaluated in the research were found to be ineffective for managing pain and functionality on their own, they may be useful as a part of a larger and more comprehensive treatment plan—particularly one tailored to your needs.

"There are some simple changes that can be useful for lower back pain, including just walking every day and even getting a little movement once an hour," he says.

A good place to start may be an app that supports such behavioral adjustments. A 2020 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research andPublic Health that also looked at apps for the management of lower back pain noted intervention messages may be particularly helpful for behavior shifts. The app doesn't need to be specifically geared toward back pain, only general behavior change. That could, for instance, be a notice that pings you once per hour to get up and walk around for a bit.

The researchers identified customized suggestions, alerts, and reminders as factors that users would find useful when comparing apps. They advise looking for a few essential components in an app, such as relevant and useful content, intuitive navigation, visual appeal, references, and resources. Some applications offer a more extensive back pain management program, while others have follow-along exercises like yoga or stretching. Dr. Anand advises asking your physical therapist or other specialist for recommendations while shopping for an app. However, in general, you should look for choices that encourage mobility.

"Basically, whatever gets you up and moving is good for your back, as long as the activity itself isn't painful," says Dr. Anand.

Emotional Health Component

Stress management is a different facet of back pain care that may be partially handled by apps, according to Dr. Anand. This kind of discomfort is frequently exacerbated by tension and anxiety. In fact, a study published in July 2021 in Scientific Reports found a strong correlation between persistent low back pain and the degree of stress.Reducing stress with an app or by other means may help to progressively lessen discomfort, especially if activity is also involved. For instance, 35 lower back pain sufferers who participated in a 12-week program in mindfulness-based stress reduction and regular exercise are described in a pilot study published in the journal Pain.

Even when compared to usual therapy, they discovered that the program was very effective in treating back pain, and the results could have long-term consequences. Approximately 64% of participants said they were still pain-free six months after the program concluded. There are already a variety of mindfulness apps available on the market; incorporating them into your daily routine may be beneficial. According to Dr. Anand, getting relief from chronic pain can be a lifelong journey for many patients, and treating the condition requires a multifaceted approach.

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