Online apps recommended to manage lower back pain

Online apps have been recommended to help people with lower back pain in a bid to tackle NHS waiting lists.

Seven platforms have been given the green light for people over the age of 16 to manage their condition in early value assessment guidance published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

According to the NHS Long Term Plan, lower back pain is the biggest cause of disability and is thought to account for about 30% of musculoskeletal GP consultations every year.

Public Health England figures show there are 9.11 million people living with long-term back pain in England.

Nice said it hopes its guidance will work towards reducing inequalities in care for musculoskeletal conditions.

It also hopes the move could reduce NHS waiting lists, as well as bringing down the number for people using medication or waiting for GP or physiotherapy appointments.

On Thursday, it emerged that a record 7.75 million people in England were waiting to start NHS treatment at the end of August.

Mark Chapman, interim director of medical technology and digital evaluation at Nice, said: “More than two million people suffer from low back pain each year and there are considerable pressures on NHS services to provide the treatment and care to those needing support with this debilitating condition.

“The digital platforms our committee has recommended could provide the NHS with extra capacity to get those effected off waiting lists, which vary in length across the country, and into treatment.

“We believe these technologies have the potential to offer value for money for the taxpayer, while offering people with low back pain quicker access to get the care they need at a time and place of their choosing.”

The platforms recommended for NHS use are ACT for PAIN, getUBetter, Hinge Health, Kaia, Pathway through Pain, selfBACK and SupportBack.

Some of the apps are designed for people with new back pain, while others are aimed at those with chronic back pain.

The platforms offer access to multi-disciplinary teams, along with guided exercise videos, and reminder functions for patients to do tasks such as filling in questionnaires.

Health minister Will Quince added: “These apps are yet another example of how technology can be used help patients get the care they need, when they need it.

“They offer a range of services which will allow patients to manage lower back pain from the comfort of their homes by improving access to musculoskeletal services – which will form a key part of our Major Conditions Strategy.

“This will help to reduce pressures on the NHS and can help to cut waiting lists – one of the government’s top priorities – and will help people to live happier, healthier lives.”

The technologies recommended in the guidance can be used once they have appropriate regulatory approval and meet the standards within NHS England’s Digital Technology Assessment Criteria, Nice said.

The watchdog also recommends lower back pain self-management, exercise, manual therapies, psychological therapy, and combined physical and psychological programmes as well as return to work programmes.

Denice Logan Rose, executive director of BackCare (National Back Pain Association), said: “Very many people living with non-specific low back pain feel that they have nowhere to turn for help, they are desperate and are at a complete loss about what they can do to help themselves.

“Apps form a significant part of the technology-driven world we live in and if they can be used to help people living with back pain to lead more pain-free and active lives, this is a huge step forward.”