Many patients with low-back disorders persisting beyond 6 weeks do not recover. This study investigates whether individualised physiotherapy plus guideline-based advice results in superior outcomes to advice alone in participants with low-back disorders. This prospective parallel group multicentre randomised controlled trial was set in 16 primary care physiotherapy practices in Melbourne, Australia. Random assignment resulted in 156 participants receiving 10 sessions of physiotherapy that was individualised based on pathoanatomical, psychosocial and neurophysiological barriers to recovery combined with guideline-based advice, and 144 participants receiving 2 sessions of physiotherapist-delivered advice alone. Primary outcomes were activity limitation (Oswestry Disability Index) and numerical rating scales for back and leg pain at 5, 10, 26 and 52 weeks postbaseline. Analyses were by intention-to-treat using linear mixed models. Between-group differences showed significant effects favouring individualised physiotherapy for back and leg pain at 10 weeks (back: 1.3, 95% CI 0.8 to 1.8; leg: 1.1, 95% CI 0.5 to 1.7) and 26 weeks (back: 0.9, 95% CI 0.4 to 1.4; leg: 1.0, 95% CI 0.4 to 1.6). Oswestry favoured individualised physiotherapy at 10 weeks (4.7; 95% CI 2.0 to 7.5), 26 weeks (5.4; 95% CI 2.6 to 8.2) and 52 weeks (4.3; 95% CI 1.4 to 7.1). Responder analysis at 52 weeks showed participants receiving individualised physiotherapy were more likely to improve by a clinically important amount of 50% from baseline for Oswestry (relative risk (RR=1.3) 1.5; 95% CI 1.2 to 1.8) and back pain (RR 1.3; 95% CI 1.2 to 1.8) than participants receiving advice alone.
10 sessions of individualised physiotherapy was more effective than 2 sessions of advice alone in participants with low-back disorders of ≥6 weeks and ≤6 months duration. Between-group changes were sustained at 12 months for activity limitation and 6 months for back and leg pain and were likely to be clinically significant.