Management of nonspecific low back pain by physiotherapists in Britain and Ireland. A descriptive questionnaire of current clinical practice

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1999 Jul 1;24(13):1332-42. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199907010-00011.


Study design: A descriptive questionnaire of chartered physiotherapists.

Objective: To investigate current physiotherapeutic management of low back pain throughout Britain and Ireland.

Summary of background data: Physiotherapists play a key role in low back pain management. Although clinical guidelines for best practice have been developed recently, there has been no large-scale attempt to describe current physiotherapeutic treatment approaches within Britain or Ireland.

Methods: After semi-structured interviews (n = 6) and two pilot studies (n = 77) were done, postal questionnaires were distributed to four regional cluster samples of the membership of two physiotherapy professional organizations (n = 2654). After two mailings, a random sample of 90 nonresponders were followed up. Data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS Ltd., Woking, Surrey, UK), and precision of the survey estimates was assessed by calculation of sampling errors and intraclass correlation coefficients for cluster sampling.

Results: Results were received from 1548 therapists (total response rate, 58.3%); of these, 813 reported that they were practicing in settings in which they treated patients with low back pain. Analysis of the results indicated the overall popularity of the Maitland mobilization and McKenzie approaches among physiotherapists. Although exercise per se was mentioned frequently by respondents, a marked difference in opinion among therapists regarding the optimal type of exercise for low back pain was obvious. Little evidence was demonstrated of the use of manipulation, fitness programs, or multidisciplinary efforts involving behavioral and physical aspects of treatment. Commonly used methods of electrotherapy were interferential therapy, ultrasound, pulsed short-wave diathermy, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.

Conclusions: The results of this study emphasize the need to evaluate further and improve the dissemination of findings regarding the effectiveness of specific physiotherapy approaches for low back pain management.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ireland
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis
  • Low Back Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Physical Therapy Modalities* / methods
  • Physical Therapy Modalities* / standards
  • Physical Therapy Modalities* / statistics & numerical data
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United Kingdom