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Lancet study backs physiotherapy for back pain

A new study is adding to the growing body of research evidence that physiotherapy works for back pain.

The CSP has welcomed the findings, recently published in the Lancet. They show that physiotherapists are using effective treatment plans to tackle low back pain. Elaine Hay, professor of community rheumatology at Keele University, did a randomised controlled trial comparing the clinical effectiveness of two different physiotherapy approaches to treating low back pain. Both were successful, showing the same clinical outcomes at three and 12 months.

The study involved 400 patients recruited from GP practices throughout the UK. Half received physical treatment, including manual therapy. The other group was treated using a brief pain management programme. It included general fitness and exercise advice and educational strategies to overcome psychosocial barriers to recovery.

Professor Hay said the findings provided a choice of approach for physiotherapists. However, they suggested pain management programmes might be a more efficient first-line approach to care - the package was delivered in fewer treatment sessions and resulted in fewer referrals to secondary care than the traditional approach.

CSP Council chair Grahame Pope said the study provides 'firm evidence' that physiotherapy is an effective treatment for low back pain. Furthermore, it highlights that physiotherapists are the experts in determining and delivering the most effective care for patients with the condition.

'Comparison of physical treatments versus a brief pain-management programme for back pain in primary care: a randomised clinical trial in physiotherapy practice.' Lancet 2005; 365:2024-2030


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