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Type: Journal article
Title: Can screening instruments accurately determine poor outcome risk in adults with recent onset low back pain? A systematic review and meta-analysis
Author: Karran, E.
McAuley, J.
Traeger, A.
Hillier, S.
Grabherr, L.
Russek, L.
Moseley, G.
Citation: BMC Medicine, 2017; 15(1):13-1-13-15
Publisher: BioMed Central
Issue Date: 2017
ISSN: 1741-7015
Statement of
Emma L. Karran, James H. McAuley, Adrian C. Traeger, Susan L. Hillier, Luzia Grabherr, Leslie N. Russek and G. Lorimer Moseley
Abstract: Background: Delivering efficient and effective healthcare is crucial for a condition as burdensome as low back pain (LBP). Stratified care strategies may be worthwhile, but rely on early and accurate patient screening using a valid and reliable instrument. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the performance of LBP screening instruments for determining risk of poor outcome in adults with LBP of less than 3 months duration. Methods: Medline, Embase, CINAHL, PsycINFO, PEDro, Web of Science, SciVerse SCOPUS, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched from June 2014 to March 2016. Prospective cohort studies involving patients with acute and subacute LBP were included. Studies administered a prognostic screening instrument at inception and reported outcomes at least 12 weeks after screening. Two independent reviewers extracted relevant data using a standardised spreadsheet. We defined poor outcome for pain to be ≥ 3 on an 11-point numeric rating scale and poor outcome for disability to be scores of ≥ 30% disabled (on the study authors' chosen disability outcome measure). Results: We identified 18 eligible studies investigating seven instruments. Five studies investigated the STarT Back Tool: performance for discriminating pain outcomes at follow-up was ‘non-informative’ (pooled AUC = 0.59 (0.55–0.63), n = 1153) and ‘acceptable’ for discriminating disability outcomes (pooled AUC = 0.74 (0.66–0.82), n = 821). Seven studies investigated the Orebro Musculoskeletal Pain Screening Questionnaire: performance was ‘poor’ for discriminating pain outcomes (pooled AUC = 0.69 (0.62–0.76), n = 360), ‘acceptable’ for disability outcomes (pooled AUC = 0.75 (0.69–0.82), n = 512), and ‘excellent’ for absenteeism outcomes (pooled AUC = 0.83 (0.75–0.90), n = 243). Two studies investigated the Vermont Disability Prediction Questionnaire and four further instruments were investigated in single studies only. Conclusions: LBP screening instruments administered in primary care perform poorly at assigning higher risk scores to individuals who develop chronic pain than to those who do not. Risks of a poor disability outcome and prolonged absenteeism are likely to be estimated with greater accuracy. It is important that clinicians who use screening tools to obtain prognostic information consider the potential for misclassification of patient risk and its consequences for care decisions based on screening. However, it needs to be acknowledged that the outcomes on which we evaluated these screening instruments in some cases had a different threshold, outcome, and time period than those they were designed to predict.
Keywords: Low back pain; screening; prognosis; risk; predictive validity
Rights: © The Author(s). 2017. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
DOI: 10.1186/s12916-016-0774-4
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