What is back skills training?

Back skills training (BeST) is a group specifically designed to help people recover from episodes of back pain that have lasted more than 6 weeks. It helps patients understand their pain and offers practical tools and advice for recovery.

The programme involves:

  • An initial 1-hour one-to-one assessment with a physiotherapist to make sure we properly understand your problem and that group back skills training is right for you. A clinician will help you set goals tailored to you and give you your workbook.
  • 6 x 90 minute group sessions, usually over 6 weeks. This will include education, self management skills, graded activity plans and goal setting.

How can back skills training help me?

For the majority of people, episodes of back pain tend to get better within 6 weeks. But for some people, pain can continue for longer than this even though there may not be any significant injury or damage. We now know that a common reason for this is that being in pain can change how we move, how we approach activities and make it difficult to know how to return to normal. Research has shown that if your back pain doesn’t improve naturally, often traditional treatments, such as physiotherapy treatments and simple exercises don’t help patients return to a good quality of life long-term.

The back skills training BeST programme focuses on improving your understanding of pain and provides you with a range of skills and tools you can use to manage your back pain over time. The programme has been extensively researched, and has helped a large number of people to reduce their low back pain and improve their quality of life.

What will I learn?

We focus on:

  • goal-setting – helping you work out what is important to you and how you can achieve it. We help you set meaningful goals that will improve your quality of life.
  • how to get moving – it’s easy to stay still during episodes of back pain, thinking it’s better to rest, but it’s important to stay mobile. We explore ways to do that even when you’re in pain.
  • stretching and strengthening – to help you get physically fitter.
  • tips on sleeping – often back pain can interrupt sleep, making the cycle of pain worse. We talk about sleep hygiene and how to get good quality sleep.
  • pacing – ways to prioritise and plan what’s going on in your life, so that you can still live well during episode of back pain.
  • unhelpful thoughts and feelings – how sometimes the way we look at pain can shape that pain. We consider the different kinds of thoughts and feelings we can have during a flare-up and tools to reframe our response.
  • relaxation – practical ways to relax our body and mind, using the biofeedback cycle to sooth physical and mental health.
  • targeting worry – understand why we worry about pain and what tools and behaviours we can use to address this.

Why is this treatment done in groups?

Research shows that patients who work together in groups can find huge benefit and support from talking to other patients who experience pain. Across the UK, there is a rise in group pain programmes, as patients share experiences, learning and encourage each other to achieve their goals.

“What different people did and said helped because you feel through listening to other people with the same problems. I found that invaluable.”
– Patient – National Back Skills Training Leaflet

How can I access this service?

Depending on your location, this service can be accessed for free under the NHS by GP referral to Circle MSK.

Once we receive your referral from your GP it will initially be screened by one of our clinicians, to ensure we have all the information we need. In some cases we may need to see or speak with you first. We will then support you to gain a full assessment and join the group.

Back skill training is currently available at the following sites:

  • Bedford
  • Greenwich

How can I find out more?

You can learn more about the Back Skills training programme in collaboration with Oxford University here.