Advice as good as physiotherapy for back pain: study

Routine physiotherapy seems to be no better than expert advice at relieving mild lower back pain, British researchers reported on Friday.

Although patients who receive physiotherapy for back pain are more likely to report improvements than others with back pain, scientists from the University of Warwick in England said there is no proof of any long-term benefit.

“There is little evidence for the effectiveness of routine physiotherapy, electrotherapy, laser treatment or traction,” Professor Sarah Stewart Brown said in a statement.

The researchers studied 286 patients who had mild to moderate lower back pain for more than six weeks. Half had physiotherapy and half received one session of advice and an assessment from a physiotherapist. The progress of both groups was assessed after 3, 6 and 12 months.

The researchers found no difference in disability scores between the two patient groups after 12 months.

Low back pain is a common complaint and one of the main reasons why people see their doctors. Some cases of back pain, which can be caused by an injury, accident, lifting a heavy object, moving suddenly or sitting in one position for a long time, can heal on their own over time.

Stewart Brown, who reported the findings in the British Medical Journal, said previous research suggests that exercise is one of the best treatments for back pain.

“Exercise programs that are graded to ensure improvements in cardiovascular or muscular strength are generally more beneficial than physiotherapy,” she added.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, September 25, 2004.

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Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Dave R. Roger, M.D.