Study: Kaia Health's back pain app outperforms standard therapy, online education

While both approaches reduced participants' lower back pain, the company's exercise therapy app was significantly more effective in a direct comparison.
By Dave Muoio
11:32 am

A randomized controlled trial recently published in npj Digital Medicine found Kaia Health’s app-based exercise therapy for lower back pain (LBP) to be an effective treatment for multidisciplinary patients, and could be more effective than a standard strategy of individual physiotherapy sessions paired with online education.


In the investigation — which was sponsored by Kaia Health but designed and conducted by a team of Munich, Germany-based academic researchers — researchers found that LBP patients in both the intervention (n = 42) and control (n = 44) groups reported a significant decrease in their pain symptoms from baseline to six weeks of treatment, and from six weeks to 12 weeks.

In particular, pain intensity over a 12-week period was significantly lower among intervention patients compared to the physiotherapy and online education group.

In terms of secondary outcomes, the researchers saw no major changes to functional ability and wellbeing across both arms, and no differences when comparing scores on the Graded Chronic Pain Scale between study groups.

Those provided with the app used it an average of 35 days (out of a possible 84), with the researchers noting no significant correlation between users’ app activity and changes in their pain index. Despite this, they also saw that patients whose pain was most severe at baseline often used the app more frequently.


Via practitioner referral and Facebook ads, researchers recruited adult patients who had experienced non-specific LBP for at least six weeks, but no longer than 12 months.

Participants who were randomized to the intervention group were provided with access to the Kaia App and encouraged to use it at least four times per week. The tool itself contains modules focused on back pain-specific education, exercise and mindfulness techniques, the content of which is updated and adapted for the individual patient.

Those assigned to the control group were provided with six individual face-to-face physiotherapy sessions that lasted at least 20 minutes. These participants were also encourage to keep up an active lifestyle, and provided links to a selection of online education resources through a weekly email.

The symptoms and characteristics of both study groups were similar at baseline.


Kaia isn’t alone in targeting back pain with app-based therapy. Recently Hinge Health unveiled results from its 177-person trial, which gave people an app that was targeted at relieving back pain. The study found that the program significantly decreased users’ lower back pain, disability and interest in surgery. 

Similarly, digital back health startup Kiio released data last September from its one-year pilot, suggesting that patients who used the platform decreased their medical spending, made fewer visits to a provider, and filled fewer opioid prescriptions compared to those who received it but didn’t use it. 


“As a perspective, being rapidly available and easily accessible, the Kaia App might be especially useful early in the disease course for patients at high risk for developing chronic LBP,” the researchers wrote. “It would allow GPs to start effective low-cost treatment without delay. Thus, while waiting to be admitted to a specialized day clinic or hospital, patients could in the meantime be treated with Kaia App. Patients could also benefit from Kaia App to continue their pain self-management after completion and discharge from treatment, because a significant proportion develop recurrent pain and seek additional health care."


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