Jeremy Y. Ng, Uzair Mohiuddin

August 2020, Volume 29, Issue 8, pp 1833 - 1844 Review Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-020-06393-9

First Online: 31 March 2020


Individuals with low back pain (LBP) often turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to seek relief. The purpose of this study was to determine mention of CAM in LBP clinical practice guidelines and assess the quality of CAM recommendations using the Appraisal of Guidelines, Research and Evaluation II (AGREE II) instrument.


A systematic review was conducted to identify LBP guidelines. MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL were searched from 2008 to 2018. The Guidelines International Network and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health websites were also searched. Eligible guidelines providing CAM recommendations were assessed with the AGREE II instrument.


From 181 unique search results, 22 guidelines on the treatment and/or management of LBP were found, and 17 made recommendations on CAM therapy. With regard to scaled domain percentages, this overall guideline scored higher than the CAM section for 4 of 6 domains (overall, CAM): (1) scope and purpose (88.6%, 87.1%), (2) clarity of presentation (83.0%, 73.2%), (3) stakeholder involvement (57.0%, 41.7%), (4) rigor of development (47.2%, 44.7%), (5) editorial independence (34.8%, 34.8%) and (6) applicability (31.8%, 21.8%).


The majority of LBP guidelines made CAM recommendations. The quality of CAM recommendations is significantly lower than overall recommendations across all domains with the exception of scope and purpose and editorial independence. This difference highlights the need for CAM recommendation quality improvement. Future research should identify CAM therapies which are supported by sufficient evidence to serve as the basis for guideline development.

Graphic abstract

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