Online Information about Low Back Pain Is Often Off Track
If you're reading this, you've probably searched for information on low back pain over the Internet. Chances are you found plenty of sites with information on low back pain. According to these researchers, chances are that much of the information you got was of poor quality--or even completely wrong.

These British authors looked at 60 web sites with information on low back pain. They found the web sites by doing the same kind of search as a typical Internet user. The authors then rated the sites for their overall quality and for the quality and accuracy of the information on low back pain. The two ratings were added together for the total score.

The results were alarming. All but two of the web sites scored less than half of the total points. Many of the sites left out important information. Worse, some sites spread false information. The web sites were most likely to give out bad information about bed rest and exercise. Research and doctors have found that too much bed rest is a bad thing when treating low back pain, and that appropriate physical activity can help patients get better. However, some web sites recommended complete bed rest--for as long as several weeks!

The authors note that there are several reasons for such poor information. Medical information on the Internet does not have to be reviewed by any medical professionals at all. Anyone can write anything and put it on a web site. It is also possible that web sites aren't updated often enough. Plus, low back pain is difficult to treat. Medical professionals often don't agree on the best ways of treating low back pain.

So how can you tell which web sites are good and which are full of baloney? The authors found that newer web sites and sites that give references tended to be of higher quality. Some of the worst sites were trying to sell specific services or products, such as back braces. The authors suggest that health professionals need to help steer people towards web sites with useful and accurate medical information. Low back pain sufferers should surf for medical information with care.
Laura Butler, BSc(Hons), MCSP, and Nadine E. Foster, BSc(Hons), DPhil MCSP. Back Pain Online: A Cross-Sectional Survey of the Quality of Web-Based Information on Low Back Pain. In Spine. February 15, 2003. Vol. 28. No. 4. Pp. 395-401.