Celebrating 20 years of Mater Back Stability Clinic

16/Sep/2020     Health

For over 20 years now Mater has been helping patients experiencing recurrent and chronic low back pain through a physiotherapy-led clinic that focuses on an evidence-based motor control training approach.

The clinic was one of the first of its kind to use diagnostic ultrasound imaging as a comprehensive assessment and treatment tool which is now a technique used throughout the world.

Professor Julie Hides from the School of Allied Health Sciences at Griffith University was one of the founders of the Mater Back Stability Clinic which she began after completing her PhD through the University of Queensland. This randomised control trial was conducted on-site at the Mater.

“I was undertaking my PhD at Mater in 1994 and I started using diagnostic ultrasound imaging to assess the size of the back muscles and to provide biofeedback to allow patients with low back pain to exercise their affected muscles,” Julie said.

“Our research demonstrated that when people injured their back for the first time, while the pain associated with the initial episode resolved quite quickly, the recurrence rate during the first year was very high.

“Approximately 85 per cent suffered a recurrence if left untreated. Our research demonstrated that when specific exercises were delivered to rehabilitate their back muscles, only 30 per cent of patients had recurrences in the first 12 months, and only 35 per cent had suffered a recurrence at three years.”

This clinical trial involved a multidisciplinary team across the Mater Radiology, Emergency and Physiotherapy departments.

“In 2000, the Mater Back Stability Clinic was established, using diagnostic ultrasound imaging technology, targeted exercise therapy and a self-management approach to help our patients recover from low back pain,” Julie said.

Julie explains living with low back pain can be disabling and debilitating for patients especially those who have chronic pain, failed surgery or require ongoing pain medication.  

Physiotherapist Steve Erceg leads the musculoskeletal physiotherapy team at the Mater and works within the Mater Back Stability Clinic. 

“More than 12 000 patients have attended the Back-Stability Clinic since 2000.  We can see that when our patients use precision exercise to manage their injury, they are not only healing their back but also engaging all the muscles in their core to protect their back from being injured in this way again,” Steve said.

“Not every patient will fully recover and return to operating the way they were before their injury, so we work with them on a tailored plan to help them reach their own personal goals and to maximise their physical abilities.

Today there are a team of Advanced Physiotherapists who work within the clinic.  They work with people, from elite athletes to weekend warriors, who experience back pain - helping them to heal from their injuries and get back to their preferred activities. 

Julie still plays an active role in the clinic and she has also branched out into other areas she never expected her career would take her.

“I have been working with the European Space Agency, the Australian Space Agency and NASA where we have been granted access to ultrasound images from astronauts before and after missions to the International Space Station,” Julie said.

“After being in zero gravity for so long the astronauts lose muscle mass so it’s important they exercise the right muscles while in space to keep them strong. In space, as well as once they are back on Earth, astronauts can experience low back pain, so they also need specific, targeted exercise programs to return them to their pre-flight status.”

The Mater Back Stability Clinic team is thankful for the support of both universities and hospitals to help patients in this way as the clinic has played an active role in many research studies.

“Three of our original research articles from the study conducted at the Mater have been cited over 1 900 times in peer reviewed journals. It’s amazing to see we have had an impact on the greater health community in this way,” Julie said.

“Another more recent article titled Predicting beneficial response to motor control training in patients with low back pain was published in the European Spine Journal and was based on the data we collected over almost 20 years within Mater’s Back Stability Clinic.”

Additional Information and Resources

To find out more about the Mater UQ Back Stability Clinic please phone 07 3163 1529 or email backclin@mater.org.au or visit our website, https://www.mater.org.au/health/what-we-do/physiotherapy-1

Journal Articles 

What low back pain is and why we need to pay attention? 

Low back pain: a call for action

Prevention and treatment of low back pain: evidence, challenges, and promising directions

Predicting a beneficial response to motor control training in patients with low back pain: a longitudinal cohort study


Public relations contacts

07 3163 6142