Objective To compare the effects of a minimal intervention strategy aimed at assessment and modification of psychosocial prognostic factors and usual care for treatment of (sub)acute low back pain in general practice.
Design Cluster randomised clinical trial.
Setting 60 general practitioners in 41 general practices.
Participants 314 patients with non-specific low back pain of less than 12 weeks' duration, recruited by their general practitioner.
Interventions In the minimal intervention strategy group the general practitioner explored the presence of psychosocial prognostic factors, discussed these factors, set specific goals for reactivation, and provided an educational booklet. The consultation took about 20 minutes. Usual care was not standardised.
Main outcome measures Functional disability (Roland-Morris disability questionnaire), perceived recovery, and sick leave because of low back pain assessed at baseline and after 6, 13, 26, and 52 weeks.
Results The dropout rate was 8% in the minimal intervention strategy group and 9% in the usual care group. Multilevel analyses showed no significant differences between the groups on any outcome measure during 12 months of follow-up in the whole group or in relevant subgroups (patients with high scores on psychosocial measures at baseline or a history of frequent or prolonged low back pain).
Conclusion This study provides no evidence that (Dutch) general practitioners should adopt our new treatment strategy aimed at psychosocial prognostic factors in patients with (sub)acute low back pain. Further research should examine why our new strategy was not more effective than usual care.