Physiotherapy Management of Low Back Pain: A Survey of Current Practice in Northern Ireland

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Study Design. A questionnaire survey of physiotherapists treating low back pain.Objective. To investigate current clinical practice in the physiotherapeutic management of low back pain in Northern Ireland.Summary of Background. Physiotherapists play an important role in the management of low back pain. However, there is relatively limited evidence about physiotherapy or about current physiotherapeutic management of low back pain. This survey aimed to establish current practice in this area.Methods. Two sets of questionnaires were completed by physiotherapists during the period 1996–1997: one in relation to their professional profile, and subsequently a questionnaire for each patient referred by physicians to physiotherapy departments in the (government-funded) National Health Service in Northern Ireland.Results. Physiotherapists (n = 157) recorded data for 1062 patients treated for low back pain in 35 outpatient centers across Northern Ireland. Of the patients treated, 70% had a duration of current episode more than 6 weeks; 26% of patients had previously received physiotherapy for low back pain. Physiotherapy treatment most commonly involved advice (89% of patients), McKenzie treatment (70%), Maitland mobilizations (42%), and interferential therapy (30.3%).Conclusion and Discussion. Physiotherapists typically treated subacute and chronic patients, principally using some types of manual techniques and advice, in keeping with current guidelines. However, high levels of the use of electrotherapy, and only limited use of manipulation, indicates the importance of further research to establish optimum management for this group of patients.

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