Effectiveness of brief/minimal contact self-activation interventions that encourage participation in physical activity (PA) for chronic low back pain (CLBP >12 weeks) is unproven. The primary objective of this assessor-blinded randomized controlled trial was to investigate the difference between an individualized walking programme (WP), group exercise class (EC), and usual physiotherapy (UP, control) in mean change in functional disability at 6 months. A sample of 246 participants with CLBP aged 18 to 65 years (79 men and 167 women; mean age ± SD: 45.4 ± 11.4 years) were recruited from 5 outpatient physiotherapy departments in Dublin, Ireland. Consenting participants completed self-report measures of functional disability, pain, quality of life, psychosocial beliefs, and PA were randomly allocated to the WP (n = 82), EC (n = 83), or UP (n = 81) and followed up at 3 (81%; n = 200), 6 (80.1%; n = 197), and 12 months (76.4%; n = 188). Cost diaries were completed at all follow-ups. An intention-to-treat analysis using a mixed between-within repeated-measures analysis of covariance found significant improvements over time on the Oswestry Disability Index (Primary Outcome), the Numerical Rating Scale, Fear Avoidance-PA scale, and the EuroQol EQ-5D-3L Weighted Health Index (P < 0.05), but no significant between-group differences and small between-group effect sizes (WP: mean difference at 6 months, 6.89 Oswestry Disability Index points, 95% confidence interval [CI] -3.64 to -10.15; EC: -5.91, CI: -2.68 to -9.15; UP: -5.09, CI: -1.93 to -8.24). The WP had the lowest mean costs and the highest level of adherence. Supervised walking provides an effective alternative to current forms of CLBP management.
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