Back pain guidelines endorse giving advice to enable people to self-manage and continue normal activities. Little is known however, about the content of advice that clinicians give and this project aimed to identify the advice given by clinicians to patients with back pain at their initial consultation.
A secondary analysis was conducted with 25 audio-recordings and transcriptions of consultations between patients with back pain and physiotherapists in a primary care outpatients department. Using a Framework approach, the data were coded and analysed to identify the content of advice given and mode of delivery.
The mean duration of consultation was 38 min 59 s (range 26:21-53:16). Advice was given in 88% (n = 22/25) of consultations and 96% included additional exercise instruction. Cognitive reassurance was evident, focussing on getting people confident to ‘move your back’ despite pain and encouraging active lifestyle changes. Beyond reassurance and discussion to enhance confidence, the key topics of advice given were: activity promotion; postural changes; practical self-help advice regarding ways to sit; pain-management advice including medication and using heat. Gaps were identified in the advice given, most notably there was a lack of specificity relating to the frequency and duration of recommended tasks and activities.
Advice and reassurance are integral to enabling people to self-manage their back pain. It is important to avoid contradictory and unhelpful messages. Despite its importance, little is known about the advice offered by clinicians during initial back pain consultations highlighting the need for guidance to be patient-centred and tailored.

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