The STarT Back screening tool uses patient data to help doctors work out the chances of someone with back pain going on to develop a long term disability. By supporting doctors to find those most at risk, treatment can be targeted to where it is most needed, benefitting those with back pain and saving the NHS money.

Why was this work needed?

Lower back pain is estimated to affect 4 out of 5 people at some point in their lives, but it has been unclear how GPs should target treatment so that people get the most benefit.

What happened?

STarT Back is a screening tool which helps doctors to group people with back pain according to their risk of developing a long term disability. Doctors ask nine questions about current symptoms and then use the answers to categorise the person as low, medium or high risk and then tailor their treatment accordingly.

What were the benefits?

The tool was originally developed as part of a randomised control trial showing that it could lead to improvements in symptoms, reduction in days off work and overall savings to the NHS. When doctors are treating conditions which are very common, such as back pain, using individual data in this way helps them to identify especially severe cases and target treatment accordingly.

What type of data was involved?

Patients are asked nine questions about their symptoms and the answers are used to help their doctor identify their risk category.

The data is used in individual care as part of a consultation between a patient and their doctor.

Who funded and collaborated on this work?

Arthritis Research UK funded the trial which developed this tool, which was conducted at Keele University.

Where can I go for more information?

What is the STarT Back Screening Tool?

Comparison of stratified primary care management for low back pain with current best practice (STarT Back): a randomised controlled trial

Using health information to improve primary care services: Arthritis Research UK