Objective: To assess the efficacy of a back school program for patients with a first episode of acute work-related low back pain requiring compensation.
Design: A randomized single-blind controlled trial.
Setting: A private physiatrics outpatient clinic.
Patients: The mean duration of low back pain was 15 days.
Intervention: Eligible patients were randomized to a standard treatment program that included daily physiotherapy (n = 86) or the same program with the addition of back school (n = 82). The back school program consisted of three 90-minute sessions given by a single trained instructor at 0, 1, and 8 weeks.
Main outcome measures: The primary outcomes were the time off work for the presenting episode of back pain and the number and duration of recurrences in the year following the study onset. Secondary outcomes included the level of pain, spinal mobility, active straight-leg raising, and functional disability assessed by the Oswestry and Roland-Morris scales.
Results: Those randomized to the back school group gained significantly more knowledge, based on the multiple choice examination (p = .0001) and performed the exercise program significantly better (p = .0001) than the standard care group. There were no differences between the two treatment groups for either of the primary outcomes. The median time to return to work from randomization was 33 days for both the back school and the standard care groups (p = .48). The number of compensated recurrences of low back pain over 1 year was similar (back school = 14, standard care = 10, p = .16), as was the median duration of these episodes (back school = 25 days, standard care = 70 days, p = .21). There were no significant differences favoring the back school group for any of the secondary outcomes at the posttreatment, 6-month, or 12-month assessments.
Conclusion: A back school intervention in addition to standard care resulted in no reduction in the time to return to work or the number or duration of recurrences of low back pain requiring compensation over a period of one year.