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A Self-Help Booklet: Does It Help with Back Pain?

If your doctor said you should exercise to get rid of your back pain, would you follow that advice? Would you be more likely to exercise if your doctor gave you a booklet with ways to help take care of your back pain?

Doctors often tell their patients to exercise more often after a bout with back pain. But they don't know if their advice is taken. More important, doctors aren't sure if their patients improve after following instructions to exercise.

To find out the answers to these questions, doctors made up their own test. Eight doctors from six clinics divided 311 patients into four groups. Each patient had a new episode of back pain. One group received a detailed self-help booklet. Another group was given advice to take regular exercise. A third group received both the booklet and the advice. The last group did not get either.

Everyone was contacted by phone one week after the first appointment with the doctor and again after three weeks. A survey was also mailed to each patient. The doctors were interested in patients' pain, ability to carry out daily activities, satisfaction with results, and how much patients had learned.

What did the doctors find out?

  • Advice to exercise or a booklet with information increases patient satisfaction.

  • With either advice or a booklet (but not both), patients improved more than if they were told to exercise and use medication for pain.

  • A booklet increases knowledge and doesn't cost much.

  • When told to exercise regularly, people usually do it!

  • Advice and a booklet given together are not helpful, especially if the information in each one is different.

The physicians who carried out this study gave the following advice to doctors and patients:

To doctors: Give simple advice and a booklet with the same information to patients with new back pain. Even slightly different information is not effective.

To patients: When you have new back pain, take your doctor's advice. Read and follow the self-care tips offered in booklets. Exercise regularly and keep exercising all your life. Research proves that exercise and activity will help protect your back in the long run.


Paul Little, FRCGP, et al. Should We Give Detailed Advice and Information Booklets to Patients With Back Pain? In Spine. October 1, 2001. Vol. 26. No. 19. Pp. 2065-2072.

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*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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