Mobile apps to self-manage chronic low back pain: A realist synthesis exploring what works, for whom and in what circumstances

Rebecca Hunter, Michelle Beattie, Chris O'Malley, Trish Gorely

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Chronic low back pain places a significant burden on healthcare services and sufferers. Clinical guidelines state that it is a condition that requires self-management. This realist synthesis explores how a mobile app could help people to self-manage chronic low back pain. Method: Six databases and several non-academic sources were searched. In addition, nineteen realist interviews were conducted with stakeholders. Sources were selected and appraised for relevancy, richness, and rigour. Data was coded with analytical memos making retroductive inferences. Causal explanations were presented in context-mechanism-outcome configurations to form three programme theories. Results: Data from 57 sources was synthesised to create 16 context-mechanism-outcome configurations and presented as three refined programme theories. The findings suggest people need to feel believed before they will engage with a self-management app. For those who feel abandoned by the healthcare service, a self-management app for chronic low back pain can be a valuable source of ongoing support and reduce feelings of social isolation. Conclusion: A self-management app, if introduced appropriately and as adjunct to care, can be an empowering tool to self-manage chronic low back pain. Innovation: Using input from key stakeholders enhances our understanding of the hidden generative mechanisms underpinning a programme's success or failure.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100175
JournalPEC Innovation
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2023


  • Back pain
  • Health innovation
  • mHealth
  • Mobile apps
  • Realist synthesis


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