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Physical therapy treatments for low back pain in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis

Inmaculada Calvo-Muñoz1*, Antonia Gómez-Conesa1 and Julio Sánchez-Meca2

Author affiliations

1 Department of Physiotherapy, Faculty of Medicine, Espinardo Campus, University of Murcia, Murcia 30100, Spain

2 Department of Basic Psychology and Methodology, University of Murcia, Murcia, Spain

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Citation and License

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013, 14:55  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-55

Published: 2 February 2013



Low back pain (LBP) in adolescents is associated with LBP in later years. In recent years treatments have been administered to adolescents for LBP, but it is not known which physical therapy treatment is the most efficacious. By means of a meta-analysis, the current study investigated the effectiveness of the physical therapy treatments for LBP in children and adolescents.


Studies in English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese, and carried out by March 2011, were selected by electronic and manual search. Two independent researchers coded the moderator variables of the studies, and performed the effect size calculations. The mean effect size index used was the standardized mean change between the pretest and posttest, and it was applied separately for each combination of outcome measures, (pain, disability, flexibility, endurance and mental health) and measurement type (self-reports, and clinician assessments).


Eight articles that met the selection criteria enabled us to define 11 treatment groups and 5 control groups using the group as the unit of analysis. The 16 groups involved a total sample of 334 subjects at the posttest (221 in the treatment groups and 113 in the control groups). For all outcome measures, the average effect size of the treatment groups was statistically and clinically significant, whereas the control groups had negative average effect sizes that were not statistically significant.


Of all the physical therapy treatments for LBP in children and adolescents, the combination of therapeutic physical conditioning and manual therapy is the most effective. The low number of studies and control groups, and the methodological limitations in this meta-analysis prevent us from drawing definitive conclusions in relation to the efficacy of physical therapy treatments in LBP.

Physical therapy; Effectiveness; Low back pain; Children; Adolescents; Meta-analysis