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Open Access Highly Accessed Study protocol

UK Back pain Exercise And Manipulation (UK BEAM) trial – national randomised trial of physical treatments for back pain in primary care: objectives, design and interventions [ISRCTN32683578]

UK Back pain Exercise And Manipulation (UK BEAM) Trial Team

Author Affiliations

Institute of Community Health Sciences, Barts and the London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, Mile End, London, UK

BMC Health Services Research 2003, 3:16  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-3-16

Published: 1 August 2003



Low back pain has major health and social implications. Although there have been many randomised controlled trials of manipulation and exercise for the management of low back pain, the role of these two treatments in its routine management remains unclear. A previous trial comparing private chiropractic treatment with National Health Service (NHS) outpatient treatment, which found a benefit from chiropractic treatment, has been criticised because it did not take treatment location into account. There are data to suggest that general exercise programmes may have beneficial effects on low back pain. The UK Medical Research Council (MRC) has funded this major trial of physical treatments for back pain, based in primary care. It aims to establish if, when added to best care in general practice, a defined package of spinal manipulation and a defined programme of exercise classes (Back to Fitness) improve participant-assessed outcomes. Additionally the trial compares outcomes between participants receiving the spinal manipulation in NHS premises and in private premises.


Randomised controlled trial using a 3 × 2 factorial design.


We sought to randomise 1350 participants with simple low back pain of at least one month's duration. These came from 14 locations across the UK, each with a cluster of 10–15 general practices that were members of the MRC General Practice Research Framework (GPRF). All practices were trained in the active management of low back pain. Participants were randomised to this form of general practice care only, or this general practice care plus manipulation, or this general practice care plus exercise, or this general practice care plus manipulation followed by exercise. Those randomised to manipulation were further randomised to receive treatment in either NHS or private premises. Follow up was by postal questionnaire one, three and 12 months after randomisation. The primary analysis will consider the main treatment effects before interactions between the two treatment packages. Economic analysis will estimate the cost per unit of health utility gained by adding either or both of the treatment packages to general practice care.