Study design: A multicenter, randomized, single-blinded controlled trial with 1-year follow-up.
Objectives: To evaluate the efficiency of progressively graded medical exercise therapy, conventional physiotherapy, and self-exercise by walking in patients with chronic low back pain.
Summary and background data: Varieties of medical exercise therapy and conventional physiotherapy are considered to reduce symptoms, improve function, and decrease sickness absence, but this opinion is controversial.
Methods: Patients with chronic low back pain or radicular pain sick-listed for more than 8 weeks and less than 52 weeks (Sickness Certificate II) were included. The treatment lasted 3 months (36 treatments). Pain intensity, functional ability, patient satisfaction, return to work, number of days on sick leave, and costs were recorded.
Results: Of the 208 patients included in this study, 71 were randomly assigned to medical exercise therapy, 67 to conventional physiotherapy, and 70 to self-exercise. Thirty-three (15.8%) patients dropped out during the treatment period. No difference was observed between the medical exercise therapy and conventional physiotherapy groups, but both were significantly better than self-exercise group. Patient satisfaction was highest for medical exercise therapy. Return to work rates were equal for all 3 intervention groups at assessment 15 months after therapy was started, with 123 patients were back to work. In terms of costs for days on sick leave, the medical exercise therapy group saved 906,732 Norwegian Kroner (NOK) ($122,531.00), and the conventional physiotherapy group saved NOK 1,882,560 ($254,200.00), compared with the self-exercise group.
Conclusions: The efficiency of medical exercise therapy and conventional physiotherapy is shown. Leaving patients with chronic low back pain untampered poses a risk of worsening the disability, resulting in longer periods of sick leave.