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Improving adherence to acute low back pain guideline recommendations with chiropractors and physiotherapists: the ALIGN cluster randomised controlled trial

French, S. D., O'Connor, D. A., Green, S. E. , Page, M. J., Mortimer, D. S., Turner, S. L., Walker, B. F., Keating, J. L., Grimshaw, J. M., Michie, S., Francis, J. J. ORCID: 0000-0001-5784-8895 & McKenzie, J. E. (2022). Improving adherence to acute low back pain guideline recommendations with chiropractors and physiotherapists: the ALIGN cluster randomised controlled trial. Trials, 23(1), 142. doi: 10.1186/s13063-022-06053-x


Acute low back pain is a common condition, has high burden, and there are evidence-to-practice gaps in the chiropractic and physiotherapy setting for imaging and giving advice to stay active. The aim of this cluster randomised trial was to estimate the effects of a theory- and evidence-based implementation intervention to increase chiropractors’ and physiotherapists’ adherence to a guideline for acute low back pain compared with the comparator (passive dissemination of the guideline). In particular, the primary aim of the intervention was to reduce inappropriate imaging referral and improve patient low back pain outcomes, and to determine whether this intervention was cost-effective.

Physiotherapy and chiropractic practices in the state of Victoria, Australia, comprising at least one practising clinician who provided care to patients with acute low back pain, were invited to participate. Patients attending these practices were included if they had acute non-specific low back pain (duration less than 3 months), were 18 years of age or older, and were able to understand and read English. Practices were randomly assigned either to a tailored, multi-faceted intervention based on the guideline (interactive educational symposium plus academic detailing) or passive dissemination of the guideline (comparator). A statistician independent of the study team undertook stratified randomisation using computer-generated random numbers; four strata were defined by professional group and the rural or metropolitan location of the practice. Investigators not involved in intervention delivery were blinded to allocation. Primary outcomes were X-ray referral self-reported by clinicians using a checklist and patient low back pain-specific disability (at 3 months).

A total of 104 practices (43 chiropractors, 85 physiotherapists; 755 patients) were assigned to the intervention and 106 practices (45 chiropractors, 97 physiotherapists; 603 patients) to the comparator; 449 patients were available for the patient-level primary outcome. There was no important difference in the odds of patients being referred for X-ray (adjusted (Adj) OR: 1.40; 95% CI 0.51, 3.87; Adj risk difference (RD): 0.01; 95% CI − 0.02, 0.04) or patient low back pain-specific disability (Adj mean difference: 0.37; 95% CI − 0.48, 1.21, scale 0–24). The intervention did lead to improvement for some key secondary outcomes, including giving advice to stay active (Adj OR: 1.96; 95% CI 1.20, 3.22; Adj RD: 0.10; 95% CI 0.01, 0.19) and intending to adhere to the guideline recommendations (e.g. intention to refer for X-ray: Adj OR: 0.27; 95% CI 0.17, 0.44; intention to give advice to stay active: Adj OR: 2.37; 95% CI 1.51, 3.74).

Intervention group clinicians were more likely to give advice to stay active and to intend to adhere to the guideline recommendations about X-ray referral. The intervention did not change the primary study outcomes, with no important differences in X-ray referral and patient disability between groups, implying that hypothesised reductions in health service utilisation and/or productivity gains are unlikely to offset the direct costs of the intervention. We report these results with the caveat that we enrolled less patients into the trial than our determined sample size. We cannot recommend this intervention as a cost-effective use of resources.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Publisher Keywords: Clinical practice guidelines, Implementation, Chiropractic, Physiotherapy, Low back pain
Subjects: R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
R Medicine > RZ Other systems of medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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