Patients with low back pain do better with an exercise programme than they do with their GP’s advice, according to new research.

The researchers from the University of York in the UK randomly assigned 187 patients suffering for at least a month with low back pain to either an exercise programme or the typical advice of their GP. The programme, led by a physiotherapist, included stretching and strengthening exercises to encourage the normal movement of the spine, as well as a relaxation and education session.

Back pain was measured by physical examination and questionnaires before treatment and at regular intervals afterward.

Although the exercise programme didn’t affect the intensity of back pain, it did improve the patients’ ability to cope with the pain. At follow up, patients in the exercise group also functioned better, tended to use fewer healthcare services and took fewer days off work than those in the control group (BMJ, 1999; 319: 279-83).

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