Intensive group training using principles of graded activity has been proven to be effective in occupational care for workers with chronic low back pain. Objective of the study was to compare the effects of an intensive group training protocol aimed at returning to normal daily activities and guideline physiotherapy for primary care patients with non-specific chronic low back pain. The study was designed as pragmatic randomised controlled trial with a setup of 105 primary care physiotherapists in 49 practices and 114 patients with non-specific low back pain of more than 12 weeks duration participated in the study. In the intensive group training protocol exercise therapy, back school and operant-conditioning behavioural principles are combined. Patients were treated during 10 individual sessions along 20 group sessions. Usual care consisted of physiotherapy according to the Dutch guidelines for Low Back Pain. Main outcome measures were functional disability (Roland Morris disability questionnaire), pain intensity, perceived recovery and sick leave because of low back pain assessed at baseline and after 6, 13, 26 and 52 weeks. Both an intention-to-treat analysis and a per-protocol analysis were performed. Multilevel analysis did not show significant differences between both treatment groups on any outcome measures during the complete follow-up period, with one exception. After 26 weeks the protocol group showed more reduction in pain intensity than the guideline group, but this difference was absent after 52 weeks. We finally conclude that an intensive group training protocol was not more effective than usual physiotherapy for chronic low back pain.
Keywords: Low back pain, Physiotherapy, Randomized controlled trial, Graded activity, Group training