Back pain can be extremely debilitating to an individual and very costly to society as a whole. Compounding this problem, there is clear research showing that once an individual has suffered back pain they are more at risk of future back pain episodes. Increasingly, early interventions are being used to try and stop back pain reoccurrence. However, it is still not clear what should be used and when.
Traditionally, patients who go to see physiotherapists are referred after an initial visit to a doctor. As a result there can be a delay between the initial episode of back pain and the first physiotherapy treatment session. The aim of this research was to see if a direct referral to physiotherapy on the same day was more effective at reducing pain than a referral through a GP.
The researchers recruited 60 patients who had a history of low back pain for 3-12 weeks. Half of the subjects were recruited into the direct same day referral group whilst the other half had to wait 3 weeks for a referral. The results showed that both groups improved over the treatment period. However, over the next 6 months the group that had been given early access to physiotherapy had less episodes of low back pain.
Whilst there are some limitations of this work, direct physiotherapy referral studies in the UK have also found a number of benefits of direct referral for a range of conditions including low back pain.