OBJECTIVE: To compare anthroposophic treatment (eurythmy, rhythmical massage or art therapy; counselling, anthroposophic medication) and conventional treatment for low back pain (LBP) under routine conditions. METHODS: 62 consecutive outpatients from 38 medical practices in Germany, consulting an anthroposophic (A-) or conventional (C-) physician with LBP of >or= 6 weeks duration participated in a prospective non-randomised comparative study. Main outcomes were Hanover Functional Ability Questionnaire (HFAQ), LBP Rating Scale Pain Score (LBPRS), Symptom Score, and SF-36 after 6 and 12 months. RESULTS: At baseline, LBP duration was > 6 months in 85% (29/34) of A-patients and 54% (15/28) of C-patients (p = 0.004). Unadjusted analysis showed significant improvements in both groups of HFAQ, LBPRS, Symptom Score, SF-36 Physical Component Summary, and three SF-36 scales (Physical Function, Pain, Vitality), and improvements in A-patients of three further SF-36 scales (Role Physical, General Health, Mental Health). After adjustment for age, gender, LBP duration, and education, improvements were still significant in both groups for Symptom Score (p = 0.030), SF-36 Physical Component Summary (p = 0.004), and three SF-36-scales (Physical Function, p = 0.025; Role Physical, p = 0.014; Pain, p = 0.003), and in A-patients for SF-36-Vitality (p = 0.032). Compared to C-patients, A-patients had significantly more pronounced improvements of three SF-36 scales (Mental Health: p = 0.045; General Health: p = 0.006; Vitality: p = 0.005); other improvements did not differ significantly between the two groups. CONCLUSION: Compared to conventional therapy, anthroposophic therapy for chronic LBP was associated with at least comparable improvements.