Objectives: To examine the relative efficacy of three active therapies for patients with chronic low back pain.
Methods: One hundred and forty-eight subjects with chronic low back pain were randomized to receive, twice weekly for 3 months, (i) active physiotherapy, (ii) muscle reconditioning on training devices, or (ii) low-impact aerobics. Questionnaires were administered to assess pain intensity, pain frequency and disability before and after therapy and at 6 and 12 months of follow-up.
Results: One hundred and thirty-two of the 148 patients (89%) completed the therapy programmes and 127 of the 148 (86%) returned a questionnaire at all four time-points. The three treatments were equally efficacious in significantly reducing pain intensity and frequency for up to 1 yr after therapy. However, the groups differed with respect to the temporal changes in self-rated disability over the study period (P=0.03): all groups showed a similar reduction after therapy, but for the physiotherapy group disability increased again during the first 6 months of follow-up whilst the other two groups showed a further decline. In all groups the values then remained stable up to the 12-month follow-up. The larger group size and minimal infrastructure required for low-impact aerobics rendered it considerably less expensive to administer than the other two programmes.
Conclusions: The introduction of low-impact aerobic exercise programmes for patients with chronic low back pain may reduce the enormous costs associated with its treatment.