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Fam Pract. 1999 Jun;16(3):216-22.

Guidelines for low back pain: changes in GP management.

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  • 1Nuffield Institute for Health, University of Leeds, UK.



Management guidelines are aimed at reducing inappropriate practice and improving efficiency; however, the effectiveness of many guidelines has yet to be confirmed. This study targets GPs' management of back pain and its relationship with the recent management guidelines.


We aimed to investigate changes in GP management of low back pain, low back pain episode duration and time before consultation, over a 5-year period.


A case series report of 574 patient notes was collected from a large practice in North Yorkshire (January 1992-March 1997). In addition, 713 referral notes from 26 practices across North Yorkshire were collected. The patients were potential subjects for a larger randomized controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness of an exercise programme. Both groups of data were analysed by identifying trends over time and using log linear regression.


Recommendation of activity or exercise was found to be a trend increasing over time. In contrast, recommendation to rest was found to be a trend decreasing over time. Activity or exercise was more frequently recommended to younger patients. There was evidence that individuals are seeking a GP consultation more quickly.


The gap between GP practice and the recent guidelines appears to be reducing. However, many variations in practice still exist. Evidence of decreasing time before consultations may indicate that the level of self-care by low back pain patients is decreasing. Although management guidelines may have some effect, there is some way to go before back pain management is optimized.

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