Patients who receive integrative care for their low-back pain, using a multidisciplinary approach, may benefit more than patients who receive standard medical care only, a new study shows.

“Testing a model of integrative care in an academic health center: results of a pilot study,” was conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and presented at the North American Research Conference on Complementary and Integrative Medicine held in May.

In the study, 19 patients were randomized to receive integrated care plus their usual medical care, or just their usual medical care. Patients received treatment for up to 12 weeks, modified based on progress. Pain scores were taken before the trial and at weeks 2, 5 and 12.

Integrated care was provided by a multidisciplinary team of licensed/certified caregivers, and included: acupuncture, chiropractic, internal medicine, massage therapy, neurology, nursing, nutritional counseling, occupational therapy, orthopedics, psychiatry/mind-body, physical therapy and rheumatology. Two members of the team, including one medical doctor and one complementary and alternative medicine practitioner, conducted initial evaluations and an individualized treatment plan was developed. Patients in the usual-care group did not receive complementary and alternative medicine interventions. For both groups, pain and function were tested using a pain scale (0-10) and the Roland score (0-23 scale).

Over the 12 weeks, patients in the integrative-care group had an average of 12.2 visits, and experienced significantly greater reduction in pain scores (0.37 per week compared with 0.14 per week for those in the usual care group), and functional status (1.11 per week compared with .49 per week). 

 “It was feasible for a multidisciplinary integrative-care team to deliver a coordinated, integrative care intervention to patients with sub-acute low-back pain,” the study authors conclude.

The results could help create demand for the use of an integrative model of health care by businesses, by reducing disability, replacement and workers’ compensation costs, the authors noted.

“If the model could be shown to be effective, reproducible, and then tested in a larger study, companies would want these to be available. This would then result in having third-party reimbursement for these kinds of integrative models available for the first time, regardless of socio-economic background,” said lead study author David Eisenberg, M.D.

Authors: Eisenberg, D.M.; Post, D.E.; Hrbek, A.L.; Connelly, M.T.; Levy, D.; O’Connor, B.; Cunningham, M.; Davis, R.B.; Cohen, M.H.; Cherkin, D.C.; Buring, J.E.