Exercise therapy for treatment of acute non-specific low back pain: A Cochrane Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

Wilhelmina IJzelenberg*, Teddy Oosterhuis, Jill A Hayden, Bart W Koes, Maurits W van Tulder, Sidney M Rubinstein, Annemarie de Zoete

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: To assess the effectiveness of exercise for acute non-specific low back pain (LBP) vs our main comparisons: (1) sham treatment and (2) no treatment at short term (main follow-up time). Data Sources and Study Selection: A comprehensive search up till November 2021 was conducted in numerous databases for randomized controlled trials on the effectiveness of exercise in adults with acute LBP (<6 weeks). Studies examining LBP with a specific etiology were excluded. The primary outcomes were back pain, back-specific functional status, and recovery. Data Extraction: Two review authors independently conducted the study selection, risk of bias assessment, and data extraction. GRADE was used to assess the certainty of the evidence. Data Synthesis: We identified 23 randomized controlled trials (2674 participants). There is very low-certainty evidence that exercise therapy compared with sham/placebo treatment has no clinically relevant effect on pain (mean difference [MD] −0.80, 95% confidence interval [CI] −5.79 to 4.19; 1 study, 299 participants) and on functional status (MD 2.00, 95% CI −2.20 to 6.20; 1 study, 299 participants) in the short term. There is very low-quality evidence which suggests no difference in effect on pain and functional status for exercise vs no treatment (2 studies; n=157, not pooled due to heterogeneity) at short-term follow-up. Similar results were found for the other follow-up moments. The certainty of the evidence was downgraded because many randomized controlled trials had a high risk of bias, were small in size, and/or there was substantial heterogeneity. Conclusion: Exercise therapy compared with sham/placebo and no treatment may have no clinically relevant effect on pain or functional status in the short term in people with acute non-specific LBP, but the evidence is very uncertain. Owing to insufficient reporting of adverse events, we were unable to reach any conclusions on the safety or harms related to exercise therapy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Early online date20 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Mar 2024

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