Back in action: Establishing a chronic low back pain exercise and education group in the community

Vanessa Sandi1, Shaun Archer1, Jacqui Barker1, Renai De Marco1, Dominic Furphy1, Juliana Symonds1

1ACT Health, Canberra, Australia

In ACT Health (Canberra, Australia), 15% of Community Care Program Physiotherapy referrals are for chronic low back pain; patients often wait 10 weeks for assessment. Referral numbers have increased, resulting in longer wait times. Research suggests outcomes and psychosocial benefits of group versus individual therapy are similar. The project aims to reduce wait times and increase therapy time for patients with chronic back pain, by establishing group therapy sessions instead of the current model of individualised intervention.

A literature search and benchmarking across private and public health services in Australia identified there were no similar groups established. A four-week exercise and education group was designed. Quality of life and fear of movement were measured using the Revised Oswestry Disability Scale (ODS) and Tampa Scale of Kinesiophobia (TSK) questionnaires. A qualitative survey was also completed by attendees.


  • Chronic low back pain assessment wait times were reduced to 4 weeks.
  • Patients received an additional 1.5 hours of therapy time compared to individual appointments.
  • Survey data from 25 patients attending the group:
  • Aged 18-64: improved by 7% in TSK and 5.8% in ODS.
  • Aged 65-79: improved by 0.5% in TSK and 3.1% in ODS.
  • 96% reported the education was helpful and would recommend the group to others.

Group therapy for chronic low back pain reduced the wait time for assessment, enabled more therapy time for patients, and achieved high patient satisfaction. Patients achieved a reduction in pain with activities of daily living and had reduced Kinesiophobia after completing the class.


Vanessa is a senior physiotherapist working in the public health system in Canberra. Her passion is the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions and empowering people to self-manage and maximise independence.  Her current role is community based and provides contact with a diverse range of musculoskeletal conditions. Vanessa has completed a post graduate certificate in musculoskeletal physiotherapy. This has enhanced her clinical knowledge and she is able to utilise these skills in her daily practice and also to identify and influence new models of care in the service. Outside of work she keeps herself busy by participating in Mexican folkloric dancing.

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