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J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2001 Nov-Dec;24(9):543-51.

A descriptive study of medical and chiropractic patients with chronic low back pain and sciatica: management by physicians (practice activities) and patients (self-management).

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Western States Chiropractic College, Division of Research, Center for Outcomes Studies, Portland, Ore. 97230, USA.



A practice-based study of ambulatory patients with low back pain noted a long-term outcome advantage for self-referred chiropractic (DC) patients over medical (MD) patients within a subgroup of patients with chronic low back pain and radiating pain below the knee. The frequency of self-care education by physicians in both provider cohorts coupled with current thinking on management of chronic low back pain led to an exploration and description of physicians' noncore practice activities and patients' self-management attitudes and behaviors.


A longitudinal, practice-based, observational study was undertaken in 14 general practice and 51 chiropractic community-based clinics. We enrolled 2945 consecutive patients with ambulatory low back pain of mechanical origin; of these, 268 comprised the subgroup of patients with chronic low back pain and radiating pain below the knee. The patients' low back status was followed for 1 year. Data on physicians' practice activities were obtained from doctor questionnaires completed at each patient visit and from chart abstraction. Patient data obtained from self-administered questionnaires at enrollment included sociodemographics, complaint characteristics, health status, and health encounter preferences. Questionnaires mailed at 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months collected data on low back complaint status and satisfaction with treatment. At 1 to 3 years follow-up, mailed questionnaires collected data on patients' self-management attitudes and behaviors.


Physicians' core practice activities were as expected. Exercise plans and self-care education (>55%) were conspicuous in the frequency of their use in the DC cohort. MD patients appeared to rely more on family and friends for support during periods of back trouble. DC patients were characterized by greater self-efficacy motivation (P = .000). Both groups showed evidence of self-care activities during and between bouts of back pain, although MD patients were far more likely to choose bed rest (P = .007).


The chiropractic encounter may have enhanced patients' self-efficacy motivation, leading to better coping abilities and better pain and disability outcomes. Understanding, respecting, and capitalizing on the role and influence of psychosocial factors can help all physicians become more effective healers and counselors for their patients with back pain.

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