Do Primary-Care Clinicians Think That Nonspecific Low Back Pain Is One Condition?


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Abstract

Study Design.Postal survey.Objectives.To determine whether Australian primary-care clinicians think that nonspecific low back pain (NSLBP) is one condition or a number of conditions (subgroups), and whether this belief influences their management of NSLBP.Summary of Background Data.Most low back pain (LBP) remains a diagnostic enigma and results in approximately 80% of primary care LBP presentations being most accurately labeled as “nonspecific LBP.” Manual therapy clinicians (chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists) are trained to think that subgroups exist within the NSLBP population. This research sought to identify the extent to which these beliefs are widely held in primary care.Methods.A survey was conducted of 1,093 primary-contact clinicians from six professional disciplines (physiotherapists, manipulative physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, general medical practitioners, and musculoskeletal medicine practitioners).Results.Completed questionnaires were returned by 651 (60%) clinicians. Of the primary-contact clinicians who responded, 93% do not think NSLBP is one condition. Seventy-four percent think that it is currently possible to recognize NSLBP subgroups. Ninety-three percent treat NSLBP differently based on patterns of signs and symptoms. The proportions of clinicians who hold these views were highest for physiotherapists and manipulative physiotherapists, and smallest for general medical practitioners and musculoskeletal medicine practitioners.Conclusions.Although assigning NSLBP patients to subgroups has not been validated, it is common in primary-care settings and influences case management. If subgroups exist within the NSLBP population, there are implications for research into the effects of treatment. Further research into the validity of subgroups is warranted.

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