Impact of contextual factors on patient outcomes following conservative low back pain treatment: systematic review
Background and objective Chronic low back pain is pervasive, societally impactful, and current treatments only provide moderate relief. Exploring whether therapeutic elements, either unrecognised or perceived as implicit within clinical encounters, are acknowledged and deliberately targeted may improve treatment efficacy. Contextual factors (specifically, patient’s and practitioner’s beliefs/characteristics; patient-practitioner relationships; the therapeutic setting/environment; and treatment characteristics) could be important, but there is limited evidence regarding their influence. This research aims to review the impact of interventions modifying contextual factors during conservative care on patient’s pain and physical functioning. Databases and data treatment Four electronic databases (Medline, CINAHL, PsycINFO and AMED) were searched from 2009 until 15th February 2022, using tailored search strategies, and resulted in 3476 unique citations. After initial screening, 170 full-text records were potentially eligible and assessed against the inclusion–exclusion criteria. Thereafter, studies were assessed for methodological quality using a modified Downs and Black scale, data extracted, and synthesised using a narrative approach. Results Twenty-one primary studies (N = 3075 participants), were included in this review. Eight studies reported significant improvements in pain intensity, and seven in physical functioning, in favour of the contextual factor intervention(s). Notable contextual factors included: addressing maladaptive illness beliefs; verbal suggestions to influence symptom change expectations; visual or physical cues to suggest pain-relieving treatment properties; and positive communication such as empathy to enhance the therapeutic alliance. Conclusion This review identified influential contextual factors which may augment conservative chronic low back pain care. The heterogeneity of interventions suggests modifying more than one contextual factor may be more impactful on patients’ clinical outcomes, although these findings require judicious interpretation.