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      Prognostic factors in non-surgically treated sciatica: A systematic review

      1 , , 1 , 1
      BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
      BioMed Central

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          When present sciatica is considered an obstacle to recovery in low back pain patients, yet evidence is limited regarding prognostic factors for persistent disability in this patient group. The aim of this study is to describe and summarise the evidence regarding prognostic factors for sciatica in non-surgically treated cohorts. Understanding the prognostic factors in sciatica and their relative importance may allow the identification of patients with particular risk factors who might benefit from early or specific types of treatment in order to optimise outcome.


          A systematic literature search was conducted using Medline, EMBASE and CINAHL electronic databases. Prospective cohort studies describing subjects with sciatica and measuring pain, disability or recovery outcomes were included. Studies of cohorts comprised entirely of surgically treated patients were excluded and mixed surgically and conservatively treated cohorts were included only if the results were analysed separately by treatment group or if the analysis was adjusted for treatment.


          Seven adequate or high quality eligible studies were identified. There were conflicting but mainly negative results regarding the influence of baseline pain severity, neurological deficit, nerve root tension signs, duration of symptoms and radiological findings on outcome. A number of factors including age, gender, smoking, previous history of sciatica and heaviness of work do not appear to influence outcome. In contrast to studies of low back pain and purely surgically treated sciatica cohorts, psychological factors were rarely investigated.


          At present, the heterogeneity of the available studies makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions about sciatica prognosis, and highlights the need for further research for this group of patients. Large scale prospective studies of high methodological quality, using a well-defined, consistent definition of sciatica and investigating psychosocial factors alongside clinical and radiological findings are recommended to identify prognostic factors in this population.

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          Most cited references19

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          A systematic review of psychological factors as predictors of chronicity/disability in prospective cohorts of low back pain.

          A systematic review of prospective cohort studies in low back pain. To evaluate the evidence implicating psychological factors in the development of chronicity in low back pain. The biopsychosocial model is gaining acceptance in low back pain, and has provided a basis for screening measurements, guidelines and interventions; however, to date, the unique contribution of psychological factors in the transition from an acute presentation to chronicity has not been rigorously assessed. A systematic literature search was followed by the application of three sets of criteria to each study: methodologic quality, quality of measurement of psychological factors, and quality of statistical analysis. Two reviewers blindly coded each study, followed by independent assessment by a statistician. Studies were divided into three environments: primary care settings, pain clinics, and workplace. Twenty-five publications (18 cohorts) included psychological factors at baseline. Six of these met acceptability criteria for methodology, psychological measurement, and statistical analysis. Increased risk of chronicity (persisting symptoms and/or disability) from psychological distress/depressive mood and, to a lesser extent, somatization emerged as the main findings. Acceptable evidence generally was not found for other psychological factors, although weak support emerged for the role of catastrophizing as a coping strategy. Psychological factors (notably distress, depressive mood, and somatization) are implicated in the transition to chronic low back pain. The development and testing of clinical interventions specifically targeting these factors is indicated. In view of the importance attributed to other psychological factors (particularly coping strategies and fear avoidance) there is a need to clarify their role in back-related disability through rigorous prospective studies.
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            A review of psychological risk factors in back and neck pain.

            S J Linton (2000)
            The literature on psychological factors in neck and back pain was systematically searched and reviewed. To summarize current knowledge concerning the role of psychological variables in the etiology and development of neck and back pain. Recent conceptions of spinal pain, especially chronic back pain, have highlighted the role of psychological factors. Numerous studies subsequently have examined the effects of various psychological factors in neck and back pain. There is a need to review this material to ascertain what conclusions may be drawn. Medical and psychological databases and cross-referencing were used to locate 913 potentially relevant articles. A table of 37 studies was constructed, consisting only of studies with prospective designs to ensure quality. Each study was reviewed for the population studied, the psychological predictor variables, and the outcome. The available literature indicated a clear link between psychological variables and neck and back pain. The prospective studies indicated that psychological variables were related to the onset of pain, and to acute, subacute, and chronic pain. Stress, distress, or anxiety as well as mood and emotions, cognitive functioning, and pain behavior all were found to be significant factors. Personality factors produced mixed results. Although the level of evidence was low, abuse also was found to be a potentially significant factor. Psychological factors play a significant role not only in chronic pain, but also in the etiology of acute pain, particularly in the transition to chronic problems. Specific types of psychological variables emerge and may be important in distinct developmental time frames, also implying that assessment and intervention need to reflect these variables. Still, psychological factors account for only a portion of the variance, thereby highlighting the multidimensional view. Because the methodologic quality of the studies varied considerably, future research should focus on improving quality and addressing new questions such as the mechanism, the developmental time factor, and the relevance that these risk factors have for intervention.
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              Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica.


                Author and article information

                BMC Musculoskelet Disord
                BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
                BioMed Central
                25 September 2011
                : 12
                : 208
                [1 ]Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre, Primary Care Sciences, Keele University, Staffordshire, UK
                Copyright ©2011 Ashworth et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 18 May 2011
                : 25 September 2011
                Research Article



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