Low back pain (LBP) is an increasingly widespread and expensive condition worldwide, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified back pain as being the global number one reason for disability.

According to the Office for National Statistics back pain accounts for almost 31 million days of work lost in 2013 costing the UK economy £14bn a year – but this could now change thanks to an AI app which launches in the UK, and has significantly reduced the pain intensity of LBP by 40% in a recent clinical study.

An estimated one-third of the UK adult population are affected by LBP each year, most of it unexplained, although some professionals think that it may be worsened by sitting at desks all day, carrying bags and general bad posture as well as by environmental factors like stress.

The Kaia app has been developed by a leading digital therapy company Kaia Health in conjunction with physiotherapists, pain management physicians, orthopaedic surgeons and clinical psychologists. The app has been approved as a Class 1 medical product in the EU, and allows users to self-manage their non-specific back pain which is all cases of back pain that do not require specific treatment – and includes up to 90% of all cases of back pain.

The app uses a multidisciplinary digital approach that offers users education, physiotherapy (including exercises for the lower back and lateral muscles) and psychological strategies (including mindfulness and muscle relaxation). The AI tailors treatment programmes for each user from over 120 exercises, and motion tracking technology ensures that the exercises are performed correctly using a smartphone without the need for additional hardware. Each session lasts for 15 minutes, and can be accessed anywhere 24 hours a day. The app also features a chat function which connects users to a physiotherapist or sport scientist for motivation and exercise-related questions.

Recent clinical studies on the Kaia app were conducted at the Department of Neurology, Centre for Interdisciplinary Pain Medicine, Technical University of Munich and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Munich in Germany. Results show a significant reduction in LBP by 40% which is well above the clinically important threshold of pain improvement, whilst the second study shows a 40% long-term retention of users for 6 months with the mean app usage over this period being 3.2 times a week.

The Kaia app was developed in Germany where it has been downloaded over 100,000 times in its first year. Thanks to reimbursement deals with several big insurances in Germany the Kaia app is now being offered free of charge to over 20 million patients in Germany (over a quarter of its population). Kaia Health is hoping to replicate this same success in the UK where an estimated one-third of the UK adult population are affected by LBP each year.

Kaia Health is member of the Digital Therapeutics Alliance, an association of international manufacturers for digital therapeutic products that meet high quality standards. The company recently launched the Perfect Squat Challenge App, the world’s first AI-powered motion tracking fitness app that turns an iPhone into a personal trainer.

Konstantin Mehl, Founder & CEO Kaia Health says: “A holistic, multidisciplinary treatment of LBP using education and exercise has always been an expensive, resource-intense undertaking which makes it hard to integrate in health systems such as the NHS. By digitising therapy we’re democratising access to effective treatment of LBP. This empowers and motivates individuals to take control, and self-manage their condition with evidenced-based, non-pharmacological, cost-effective alternatives that could save the UK economy billions each year. The Kaia app, and advances in technology, demonstrates why we need to rethink how we treat diseases, and make digital self-management a more realistic part of treatment.”

Low Back Pain stats:

  • 31 million days of work were lost in 2013 due to back, neck and muscle problems
  • The cost to the UK economy is £14bn a year
  • At work, back pain is one of the most common causes of sickness absence
  • 80 per cent of the UK population will suffer with back pain at some point in their lives
  • Approximately 8 million adults in the UK  report chronic pain that is moderate to severely disabling
  • Back pain alone accounts for 40% of sickness absence in the NHS
  • Back pain is the leading cause of disability

The Kaia app is available on iOS and Android, and can be downloaded via GooglePlay and AppStore. The first 7 days of the program are free. To unlock the full functionality the costs are: 3 months: £34.99, 6 months: £54.99 and 12 months: £69.99.