NICE guidelines for low back pain

May 2009: People with notoriously difficult-to-treat low back pain could be offered a choice of osteopathy, massage or exercise classes under new guidelines published by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

The new guidelines cover people who have been experiencing what doctors call ‘non-specific back pain’ for longer than six weeks but less than one year; this usually means that the pain may be linked to structures in the back such as the joints, muscles and ligaments. In addition to advising patients with low back pain to stay physically active, GPs will now be able to access a range of therapies including osteopathy, chiropractic, physiotherapy, acupuncture or a structured exercise programme. GP’s will also be advised that x-rays, ultrasounds and MRI scans should not be used for non-specific low back pain, except in certain circumstances.

What does this mean for me?

Dr Dries Hettinga, Head of Policy and Research at BackCare said: “This guideline is an important step forward in raising the standards of care for people with low back pain, and providing a choice of effective treatments. Fortunately most people with back pain recover within weeks without specialised treatments, but a significant group need a bit more help with their condition. This guideline is aimed at people who haven’t got better after six weeks, offering them a comprehensive treatment programme that should help prevent a long-term problem from developing. This guideline will help patients understand what treatment and care can help them with their back pain, and shows that there can be a positive outlook for treating this condition.”