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The Fear Reduction Exercised Early (FREE) approach to low back pain: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial.

Darlow (2017)
Summary by 

Low back pain (LBP) is a major health issue associated with considerable health loss and societal costs. General practitioners (GPs) play an important role in the management of LBP; however, GP care has not been shown to be the most cost-effective approach unless exercise and behavioural counselling are added to usual care. The Fear Reduction Exercised Early (FREE) approach to LBP has been developed to assist GPs to manage LBP by empowering exploration and management of psychosocial barriers to recovery and provision of evidence-based care and information. The aim of the Low Back Pain in General Practice (LBPinGP) trial is to explore whether patients with LBP who receive care from GPs trained in the FREE approach have better outcomes than those who receive usual care. This is a cluster randomised controlled superiority trial comparing the FREE approach with usual care for LBP management with investigator-blinded assessment of outcomes. GPs will be recruited and then cluster randomised (in practice groups) to the intervention or control arm. Intervention arm GPs will receive training in the FREE approach, and control arm GPs will continue to practice as usual. Patients presenting to their GP with a primary complaint of LBP will be allocated on the basis of allocation of the GP they consult. We aim to recruit 60 GPs and 275 patients (assuming patients are recruited from 75% of GPs and an average of 5 patients per GP complete the study, accounting for 20% patient participant dropout). Patient participants and the trial statistician will be blind to group allocation throughout the study. Analyses will be undertaken on an intention-to-treat basis. The primary outcome will be back-related functional impairment 6months post-initial LBP consultation (interim data at 2weeks, 6weeks and 3months), measured with the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire. Secondary patient outcomes include pain, satisfaction, quality of life, days off from work and costs of care. Secondary GP outcomes include beliefs about pain and impairment, GP confidence, and actual and reported clinical behaviour. Health economic and process evaluations will be conducted. In the LBPinGP trial, we will investigate providing an intervention during the first interaction a person with back pain has with their GP. Because the FREE approach is used within a normal GP consultation, if effective, it may be a cost-effective means of improving LBP care. Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, ACTRN12616000888460 . Registered on 6 July 2016.