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Reliable System to Classify Patients with Low Back Pain

Physical therapists are looking for ways to treat low back pain (LBP) patients as effectively as possible. One way to do this is to treat patients based on clusters of exam findings. This is called a classification method or approach to patient care.

So far it seems to be working. Patients who are classified before treatment have better results than patients who are not classified. In this study physical therapists (PTs) looked at how reliable the exam items were. PTs with all levels of experience tested patients ages 18-65 years old with LBP of less than 90 days.

Patients were examined by one PT and placed into one of three treatment groups. The groups were manipulation, specific exercises, or a stabilization program. Then each patient was examined by a second PT (before starting treatment). Exam results for the two groups of PTs were compared.

The results of this study support the use of a classification system. The method can be used by all therapists and still get the same results. Level of experience doesn't make a difference.


Julie M. Fritz, PhD, PT, ATC, et al. An Examination of the Reliability of a Classification Algorithm for Subgrouping Patients with Low Back Pain. In Spine. January 1, 2006. Vol. 31. No. 1. Pp. 77-82

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