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1.  Prognosis in patients with recent onset low back pain in Australian primary care: inception cohort study 
Objective To estimate the one year prognosis and identify prognostic factors in cases of recent onset low back pain managed in primary care.
Design Cohort study with one year follow-up.
Setting Primary care clinics in Sydney, Australia.
Participants An inception cohort of 973 consecutive primary care patients (mean age 43.3, 54.8% men) with non-specific low back pain of less than two weeks’ duration recruited from the clinics of 170 general practitioners, physiotherapists, and chiropractors.
Main outcome measures Participants completed a baseline questionnaire and were contacted six weeks, three months, and 12 months after the initial consultation. Recovery was assessed in terms of return to work, return to function, and resolution of pain. The association between potential prognostic factors and time to recovery was modelled with Cox regression.
Results The follow-up rate over the 12 months was more than 97%. Half of those who reduced their work status at baseline had returned to previous work status within 14 days (95% confidence interval 11 to 17 days) and 83% had returned to previous work status by three months. Disability (median recovery time 31 days, 25 to 37 days) and pain (median 58 days, 52 to 63 days) took much longer to resolve. Only 72% of participants had completely recovered 12 months after the baseline consultation. Older age, compensation cases, higher pain intensity, longer duration of low back pain before consultation, more days of reduced activity because of lower back pain before consultation, feelings of depression, and a perceived risk of persistence were each associated with a longer time to recovery.
Conclusions In this cohort of patients with acute low back pain in primary care, prognosis was not as favourable as claimed in clinical practice guidelines. Recovery was slow for most patients. Nearly a third of patients did not recover from the presenting episode within a year.
PMCID: PMC2483884  PMID: 18614473
2.  Prognosis for patients with chronic low back pain: inception cohort study 
Objectives To describe the course of chronic low back pain in an inception cohort and to identify prognostic markers at the onset of chronicity.
Design Inception cohort study with one year follow-up.
Setting Primary care clinics in Sydney, Australia.
Participants The study sample was a subcohort of an inception cohort of 973 consecutive patients presenting to primary care with acute low back pain (<2 weeks’ duration). 406 participants whose pain persisted for three months formed the inception cohort of patients with chronic low back pain.
Main outcome measures Outcomes and putative predictors measured at initial presentation, onset of chronicity (study entry), and follow-up at nine and 12 months. Recovery was determined from measures of pain intensity, disability, and work status. The association between potential prognostic factors and time to recovery was modelled with Cox regression.
Results Completeness of follow-up was 97% of total person time for all outcomes. The cumulative probability of being pain-free was 35% at nine months and 42% at 12 months and for complete recovery was 35% at nine months and 41% at 12 months. Of the 259 participants who had not recovered from pain related disability at entry to the chronic study, 47% had recovered by 12 months. Previous sick leave due to low back pain, high disability levels or high pain intensity at onset of chronicity, low levels of education, greater perceived risk of persistent pain, and being born outside Australia were associated with delayed recovery.
Conclusion More than one third of patients with recent onset, non-radicular chronic low back pain recover within 12 months. The prognosis is less favourable for those who have taken previous sick leave for low back pain, have high disability levels or high pain intensity at onset of chronic low back pain, have lower education, perceive themselves as having a high risk of persistent pain, and were born outside Australia.
PMCID: PMC2758336  PMID: 19808766
3.  Prognosis of acute low back pain: design of a prospective inception cohort study 
Clinical guidelines generally portray acute low back pain as a benign and self-limiting condition. However, evidence about the clinical course of acute low back pain is contradictory and the risk of subsequently developing chronic low back pain remains uncertain. There are few high quality prognosis studies and none that have measured pain, disability and return to work over a 12 month period. This study aims to provide the first estimates of the one year prognosis of acute low back pain (pain of less than 2 weeks duration) in patients consulting primary care practitioners. A secondary aim is to identify factors that are associated with the prognosis of low back pain.
The study is a prospective inception cohort study. Consecutive patients consulting general medical practitioners, physiotherapists and chiropractors in the Sydney metropolitan region will complete a baseline questionnaire regarding their back pain. Subsequently these patients will be followed up by telephone 6 weeks, 3 months and 12 months after the initial consultation. Patients will be considered to have recovered from the episode of back pain if they have no pain and no limitation of activity, and have returned to pre-injury work status. Life tables will be generated to determine the one year prognosis of acute low back pain. Prognostic factors will be assessed using Cox regression.
This study will provide the first estimates of the one year prognosis of acute low back pain in a representative sample of primary care patients.
PMCID: PMC1543628  PMID: 16790069
4.  Prognosis of chronic low back pain: design of an inception cohort study 
Although clinical guidelines generally portray chronic low back pain as a condition with a poor prognosis this portrayal is based on studies of potentially unrepresentative survival cohorts. The aim of this study is to describe the prognosis of an inception cohort of people with chronic low back pain presenting for primary care.
The study will be an inception cohort study with one year follow-up. Participants are drawn from a cohort of consecutive patients presenting with acute low back pain (less than 2 weeks duration) to primary care clinics in Sydney, Australia. Those patients who continue to experience pain at three months, and are therefore classified as having chronic back pain, are invited to participate in the current study. The cohort will be followed up by telephone at baseline, 9 months and 12 months after being diagnosed with chronic low back pain. Recovery from low back pain will be measured by sampling three different outcomes: pain intensity, interference with function due to pain, and work status. Life tables will be generated to determine the one year prognosis of chronic low back pain. Prognostic factors will be assessed using Cox regression.
This study will determine the prognosis of chronic non-specific low back pain in a representative cohort of patients sourced from primary care. The results of this study will improve understanding of chronic low back pain, allowing clinicians to provide more accurate prognostic information to their patients.
PMCID: PMC1800846  PMID: 17288586
5.  Expectations for Recovery Important in the Prognosis of Whiplash Injuries 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(5):e105.
Individuals' expectations on returning to work after an injury have been shown to predict the duration of time that a person with work-related low back pain will remain on benefits; individuals with lower recovery expectations received benefits for a longer time than those with higher expectations. The role of expectations in recovery from traumatic neck pain, in particular whiplash-associated disorders (WAD), has not been assessed to date to our knowledge. The aim of this study was to investigate if expectations for recovery are a prognostic factor after experiencing a WAD.
Methods and Findings
We used a prospective cohort study composed of insurance claimants in Sweden. The participants were car occupants who filed a neck injury claim (i.e., for WAD) to one of two insurance companies between 15 January 2004 and 12 January 2005 (n = 1,032). Postal questionnaires were completed shortly (average 23 d) after the collision and then again 6 mo later. Expectations for recovery were measured with a numerical rating scale (NRS) at baseline, where 0 corresponds to “unlikely to make a full recovery” and 10 to “very likely to make a full recovery.” The scale was reverse coded and trichotomised into NRS 0, 1–4, and 5–10. The main outcome measure was self-perceived disability at 6 mo postinjury, measured with the Pain Disability Index, and categorised into no/low, moderate, and high disability. Multivariable polytomous logistic regression was used for the analysis. There was a dose response relationship between recovery expectations and disability. After controlling for severity of physical and mental symptoms, individuals who stated that they were less likely to make a full recovery (NRS 5–10), were more likely to have a high disability compared to individuals who stated that they were very likely to make a full recovery (odds ratio [OR] 4.2 [95% confidence interval (CI) 2.1 to 8.5]. For the intermediate category (NRS 1–4), the OR was 2.1 (95% CI 1.2 to 3.2). Associations between expectations and disability were also found among individuals with moderate disability.
Individuals' expectations for recovery are important in prognosis, even after controlling for symptom severity. Interventions designed to increase patients' expectations may be beneficial and should be examined further in controlled studies.
Lena Holm and colleagues show that in people who had a whiplash injury after a car crash there was an association between expectation of disability and actual disability six months later.
Editors' Summary
The disability associated with injury is a major source of distress for patients, and can be costly to the health care system and employers when persons fail to recover quickly and are unable to return to work. Finding ways to help people recover quickly and get back to optimal health is important. Some of the most common injuries causing disability and time off work result from whiplash—the sudden hyperextension or “whipping” of the neck, which can occur from a motor vehicle crash. It has long been recognized that psychological factors (such as the ability to cope, how “in control” one feels about one's life) are as important as physical symptoms in how disabling an injury can be. There is now growing evidence that a person's feelings about their ability to recover from injury plays a part in actual recovery. Studies from Europe and North America have shown with conditions like low back pain and minor head injury that a patient's feelings about the possibility of getting better are related to how well they do. Less is known about how important these psychological factors are in recovery from disorders due to whiplash associated disorders.
Why Was This Study Done?
The authors wanted to find out whether there was a relationship between people's expectations for their recovery from whiplash associated disorders and their actual recovery six months later. So, for example, they wondered if a person with whiplash who felt they were very unlikely to recover from their injury, actually did not recover (and vice versa).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The authors had access to an unusual set of health information—insurance claims by people who had been involved in car collisions to two insurance companies in Sweden. They identified about 1,000 adult insurance claimants over one year and mailed them a questionnaire that asked for details about the collision as well as information about the claimant: their demographic profile, health history, and the types of pain and symptoms experienced since the crash. The questionnaire also asked the claimant how likely they thought they were to make a full recovery from their injuries.
For those who said they had whiplash associated disorders, the authors followed up with another questionnaire six months later, which asked for information about any disability, pain, or other symptoms that the claimant was still experiencing because of the injury. Of those who had completed the first questionnaire, 82% were followed up.
Only about a quarter of claimants with whiplash associated disorders said they expected to make a full recovery. Perhaps not surprisingly, those with only mild pain, compared to those with intense pain, were more likely to think so. Persons who said they were less likely to make a full recovery were four times more likely to report high levels of disability six months later. Even for persons (or individuals) people with moderate levels of disability six months after injury, their expectations for recovery were similarly linked to how well they did: the lower the expectations for recovery, the higher the disability. These findings were true even after taking into account how severe signs and symptoms the person had, and how well the person was coping psychologically.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings indicate that those with the lowest expectations for recovery after their whiplash injury will have the poorest recovery, and those with the highest expectations will have the best recovery. They also suggest that a patient's expectations about getting better are as important as his or her physical symptoms. The authors say that the more we can influence patients to believe they will make a full recovery, the better chance they will have to recover completely. This means that it may be beneficial for healthcare providers to give support and/or education to patients with whiplash associated disorders that increases their positive feelings toward recovery. The authors call for more studies into whether these types of targeted interventions would be of benefit.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Information about research on injuries and rehabilitation can be found at the Web sites of organisations devoted to studying the health of workers, such as the Institute for Work and Health in Canada, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, and the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
The Wikipedia entry for medical aspects of whiplash describes the four grades of whiplash disorder, but does not cover the debate about the credibility of whiplash disorder (please note that Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
The Sjukvardsradgivningen Web site provides information about whiplash-related disorders, common signs and symptoms, recovery and prognosis, and treatments (in Swedish)
PMCID: PMC2375948  PMID: 18479182
6.  Clinical course and prognostic factors in acute low back pain: an inception cohort study in primary care practice. 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  1994;308(6928):577-580.
OBJECTIVE--To describe the natural course of recent acute low back pain in terms of both morbidity (pain, disability) and absenteeism from work and to evaluate the prognostic factors for these outcomes. DESIGN--Inception cohort study. SETTING--Primary care. PATIENTS--103 patients with acute localised non-specific back pain lasting less than 72 hours. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Complete recovery (disappearance of both pain and disability) and return to work. RESULTS--90% of patients recovered within two weeks and only two developed chronic low back pain. Only 49 of 100 patients for whom data were available had bed rest and 40% of 75 employed patients lost no time from work. Proportional hazards regression analysis showed that previous chronic episodes of low back pain, initial disability level, initial pain worse when standing, initial pain worse when lying, and compensation status were significantly associated with delayed episode recovery. These factors were also related to absenteeism from work. Absenteeism from work was also influenced by job satisfaction and gender. CONCLUSIONS--The recovery rate from acute low back pain was much higher than reported in other studies. Those studies, however, did not investigate groups of patients enrolled shortly after the onset of symptoms and often mixed acute low back pain patients with patients with exacerbations of chronic pain or sciatica. Several sociodemographic and clinical factors were of prognostic value in acute low back pain. Factors which influenced the outcome in terms of episode recovery (mainly physical severity factors) were only partly predictive of absenteeism from work. Time off work and return to work depended more on sociodemographic and job related influences.
PMCID: PMC2539597  PMID: 8148683
7.  The Prognosis of Acute Low Back Pain in Primary Care in the U.S. A 2-Year Prospective Cohort Study 
Spine  2012;37(8):678-684.
Study Design
Prospective cohort study
to assess the prognosis of patients presenting with acute low back pain (LBP) in a primary care setting in the U.S.
Summary of Background Data
Practice guidelines for acute LBP based on return-to-work outcomes underestimate the development of chronic pain in the primary care setting. Due to differences in inclusion criteria, chronic pain definitions and national health systems, prognostic cohort studies have reported a wide range of results limiting interpretation and generalization. Current data from carefully designed prognostic studies of acute LBP are lacking for the U.S. primary care system.
Members of a large health service organization were enrolled after seeking medical care for acute LBP, with or without sciatica, of up to 30 days duration, with no prior episode in the past 12 months and no history of spine surgery. We conducted phone interviews at baseline, six months and two years. Based on receiver operating characteristic analyses, a combination of global perceived recovery with pain intensity was used as primary outcome for chronic pain. Recurrence and multiple secondary outcomes were assessed to allow for comparison with other studies.
605 patients had an average pain intensity of 5.6 (numeric rating scale 0–10) and disability of 15.8 (Roland Morris scale 0–24). Eight percent had declared sick leave between pain onset and baseline interview. 13% of 521 patients (86% follow-up) suffered from chronic pain at six months and 19% of 443 patients at 2 years. At six months, 54% had experienced at least one LBP recurrence, and 47% in the subsequent 18 months.
The prognosis of strictly-defined acute LBP, with or without sciatica, is less favorable than commonly stated in practice guidelines based on failure to return to work. Broad initiatives to develop new means for the primary and secondary prevention of recurrent and chronic LBP are urgently needed.
PMCID: PMC3335773  PMID: 22504516
Low Back Pain; Prognosis; Acute Pain; Chronic Pain
8.  A clinical return-to-work rule for patients with back pain 
Tools for early identification of workers with back pain who are at high risk of adverse occupational outcome would help concentrate clinical attention on the patients who need it most, while helping reduce unnecessary interventions (and costs) among the others. This study was conducted to develop and validate clinical rules to predict the 2-year work disability status of people consulting for nonspecific back pain in primary care settings.
This was a 2-year prospective cohort study conducted in 7 primary care settings in the Quebec City area. The study enrolled 1007 workers (participation, 68.4% of potential participants expected to be eligible) aged 18–64 years who consulted for nonspecific back pain associated with at least 1 day's absence from work. The majority (86%) completed 5 telephone interviews documenting a large array of variables. Clinical information was abstracted from the medical files. The outcome measure was “return to work in good health” at 2 years, a variable that combined patients' occupational status, functional limitations and recurrences of work absence. Predictive models of 2-year outcome were developed with a recursive partitioning approach on a 40% random sample of our study subjects, then validated on the rest.
The best predictive model included 7 baseline variables (patient's recovery expectations, radiating pain, previous back surgery, pain intensity, frequent change of position because of back pain, irritability and bad temper, and difficulty sleeping) and was particularly efficient at identifying patients with no adverse occupational outcome (negative predictive value 78%– 94%).
A clinical prediction rule accurately identified a large proportion of workers with back pain consulting in a primary care setting who were at a low risk of an adverse occupational outcome.
PMCID: PMC558170  PMID: 15939915
9.  On the course of low back pain in general practice: a one year follow up study 
OBJECTIVES—Knowledge on the clinical course of low back pain presented in general practice is poor. Preceding studies offer a fragmentary view only, whereas further knowledge is important to enable the assessment of the prognosis. The object of this study is to investigate the course of low back pain presented in general practice to enable the assessment of the prognosis.
METHODS—A one year follow up study on the clinical course of low back pain in consecutive cases receiving usual care in general practice. During a period of two years 15 general practitioners from Amsterdam and surrounding areas included consecutive patients with both chronic and recent onset low back pain. After the initial visit, each patient was monitored for a period of 12 months. The follow up consisted of monthly postal questionnaires on the course of the low back pain and the related disability.
RESULTS—A total of 443 of 605 patients identified were included in the follow up, which was fully completed by 269 patients. In general, patients with less serious low back pain participated less often or did not complete the follow up. At 12 weeks 35% and at the end of the follow up 10% of the population, respectively, still suffered from low back pain. Both the pain and the disability seemed to diminish quickly after the initial visit, and both seemed to stabilise at a lower level if the low back pain did not disappear completely. About three of four patients, whose pain disappeared before the end of the follow up, endured one or more relapses within a year. The median time to a relapse was about seven weeks, and its median duration about six weeks. Both the pain and the disability turned out to be less severe during relapses. The median time to recovery for patients whose low back pain developed more than seven weeks before the initial visit, was four weeks longer than for patients with more recently developed low back pain at the initial visit.
CONCLUSIONS—The clinical course of low back pain presented in general practice, for the most patients, clearly is less favourable than expected. It takes more than just a few weeks to recover, and relapses occur within a year in most cases. Fortunately, both the pain and the disability quickly diminish, even if the low back pain does not resolve within a few weeks.

 Keywords: backache; prognosis; follow up study; general practice
PMCID: PMC1752458  PMID: 9536816
10.  Course and prognosis of recovery for chronic non-specific low back pain: design, therapy program and baseline data of a prospective cohort study 
There has been increasing focus on factors predicting the development of chronic musculoskeletal disorders. For patients already experiencing chronic non-specific low back pain it is also relevant to investigate which prognostic factors predict recovery. We present the design of a cohort study that aims to determine the course and prognostic factors for recovery in patients with chronic non-specific low back pain.
All participating patients were recruited (Jan 2003-Dec 2008) from the same rehabilitation centre and were evaluated by means of (postal) questionnaires and physical examinations at baseline, during the 2-month therapy program, and at 5 and 12 months after start of therapy. The therapy protocol at the rehabilitation centre used a bio-psychosocial approach to stimulate patients to adopt adequate (movement) behaviour aimed at physical and functional recovery. The program is part of regular care and consists of 16 sessions of 3 hours each, over an 8-week period (in total 48 hours), followed by a 3-month self-management program. The primary outcomes are low back pain intensity, disability, quality of life, patient's global perceived effect of recovery, and participation in work. Baseline characteristics include information on socio-demographics, low back pain, employment status, and additional clinical items status such as fatigue, duration of activities, and fear of kinesiophobia. Prognostic variables are determined for recovery at short-term (5 months) and long-term (12 months) follow-up after start of therapy.
In a routine clinical setting it is important to provide patients suffering from chronic non-specific low back pain with adequate information about the prognosis of their complaint.
PMCID: PMC3221649  PMID: 22047019
11.  Predicting persistent disabling low back pain in general practice: a prospective cohort study 
Patients may adopt active and/or passive coping strategies in response to pain. However, it is not known whether these strategies may also precede the onset of chronic symptoms and, if so, whether they are independent predictors of prognosis.
To examine, in patients with low back pain in general practice, the prognostic value of active and passive coping styles, in the context of baseline levels of pain, disability and pain duration.
Design of study
Prospective cohort study.
Nine general practices in north west England.
Patients consulting their GP with a new episode of low back pain were recruited to the study. Information on coping styles, pain severity, disability, duration, and a brief history of other chronic pain symptoms was recorded using a self-completion postal questionnaire. Participants were then sent a follow-up questionnaire, 3 months after their initial consultation, to assess the occurrence of low back pain. The primary outcome was persistent disabling low back pain, that is, low back pain at 3-month follow-up self-rated as ≥20 mm on a 100 mm visual analogue scale, and ≥5 on the Roland and Morris Disability Questionnaire.
A total of 974 patients took part in the baseline survey, of whom 922 (95%) completed a follow-up questionnaire; 363 individuals (39%) reported persistent disabling pain at follow-up. Persons who reported high levels of passive coping experienced a threefold increase in the risk of persistent disabling low back pain (relative risk [RR] = 3.0; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.3 to 4.0). In contrast, active coping was associated with neither an increase nor a decrease in the risk of a poor prognosis. After adjusting for baseline pain severity, disability, and other measures of pain and pain history, persons who reported a high passive coping score were still at 50% increased risk of a poor outcome (RR = 1.5; 95% CI = 1.1 to 2.0).
Patients who report passive coping strategies experience a significant increase in the risk of persistent symptoms. Further, this risk persists after controlling for initial pain severity and disability. The identification of this low back pain subgroup may help target future treatments to those at greatest risk of a poor outcome.
PMCID: PMC1837841  PMID: 16638248
coping behavior; general practice; low back pain; prognosis
12.  Study protocol of effectiveness of a biopsychosocial multidisciplinary intervention in the evolution of non-speficic sub-acute low back pain in the working population: cluster randomised trial 
Non-specific low back pain is a common cause for consultation with the general practitioner, generating increased health and social costs. This study will analyse the effectiveness of a multidisciplinary intervention to reduce disability, severity of pain, anxiety and depression, to improve quality of life and to reduce the incidence of chronic low back pain in the working population with non-specific low back pain, compared to usual clinical care.
A Cluster randomised clinical trial will be conducted in 38 Primary Health Care Centres located in Barcelona, Spain and its surrounding areas. The centres are randomly allocated to the multidisciplinary intervention or to usual clinical care. Patients between 18 and 65 years old (n = 932; 466 per arm) and with a diagnostic of a non-specific sub-acute low back pain are included. Patients in the intervention group are receiving the recommendations of clinical practice guidelines, in addition to a biopsychosocial multidisciplinary intervention consisting of group educational sessions lasting a total of 10 hours. The main outcome is change in the score in the Roland Morris disability questionnaire at three months after onset of pain. Other outcomes are severity of pain, quality of life, duration of current non-specific low back pain episode, work sick leave and duration, Fear Avoidance Beliefs and Goldberg Questionnaires. Outcomes will be assessed at baseline, 3, 6 and 12 months. Analysis will be by intention to treat. The intervention effect will be assessed through the standard error of measurement and the effect-size. Responsiveness of each scale will be evaluated by standardised response mean and receiver-operating characteristic method. Recovery according to the patient will be used as an external criterion. A multilevel regression will be performed on repeated measures. The time until the current episode of low back pain takes to subside will be analysed by Cox regression.
We hope to provide evidence of the effectiveness of the proposed biopsychosocial multidisciplinary intervention in avoiding the chronification of low back pain, and to reduce the duration of non-specific low back pain episodes. If the intervention is effective, it could be applied to Primary Health Care Centres.
Trial Registration
PMCID: PMC2820035  PMID: 20067619
13.  Acupuncture for acute non-specific low back pain: a protocol for a randomised, controlled multicentre intervention study in general practice—the Acuback Study 
BMJ Open  2012;2(3):e001164.
Some general practitioners (GPs) treat acute low back pain (LBP) with acupuncture, despite lacking evidence of its effectiveness for this condition. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether a single treatment session with acupuncture can reduce time to recovery when applied in addition to standard LBP treatment according to the Norwegian national guidelines. Analyses of prognostic factors for recovery and cost-effectiveness will also be carried out.
Methods and analysis
In this randomised, controlled multicentre study in general practice in Southern Norway, 270 patients will be allocated into one of two treatment groups, using a web-based application based on block randomisation. Outcome assessor will be blinded for group allocation of the patients. The control group will receive standard treatment, while the intervention group will receive standard treatment plus acupuncture treatment. There will be different GPs treating the two groups, and both groups will just have one consultation. Adults who consult their GP because of acute LBP will be included. Patients with nerve root affection, ‘red flags’, pregnancy, previous sick leave more than 14 days and disability pension will be excluded. The primary outcome of the study is the median time to recovery (in days). The secondary outcomes are rated global improvement, back-specific functional status, sick leave, medication, GP visits and side effects. A pilot study will be conducted.
Ethics and dissemination
Participation is based on informed written consent. The authors will apply for an ethical approval from the Regional Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics when the study protocol is published. Results from this study, positive or negative, will be disseminated in scientific medical journals.
Trial Registration Number Identifier: NCT01439412.
Article summary
Article focus
Does acupuncture treatment contribute to faster pain recovery in acute LBP compared with standard treatment in general practice provided in accordance with the Norwegian national guidelines?
Does acupuncture treatment for acute LBP improve function and reduce drug use and sick leave?
Is acupuncture treatment for acute LBP a cost-effective treatment in general practice?
Key messages
This project will increase the knowledge about the effects of acupuncture treatment for acute LBP.
The primary outcome is the median time in days for recovery from pain.
A faster pain relief will aid the patients to earlier return to normal, everyday activities, including return to their work.
Strengths and limitations of this study
The methodology of the trial is stronger than previous studies.
There are still methodological challenges in acupuncture trials; in this trial, neither the patient or the GP will be blinded, and the consultation time will be longer in the intervention group.
PMCID: PMC3383982  PMID: 22734119
14.  Clinical course, characteristics and prognostic indicators in patients presenting with back and leg pain in primary care. The ATLAS study protocol 
Low-back related leg pain with or without nerve root involvement is associated with a poor prognosis compared to low back pain (LBP) alone. Compared to the literature investigating prognostic indicators of outcome for LBP, there is limited evidence on prognostic factors for low back-related leg pain including the group with nerve root pain. This 1 year prospective consultation-based observational cohort study will describe the clinical, imaging, demographic characteristics and health economic outcomes for the whole cohort, will investigate differences and identify prognostic indicators of outcome (i.e. change in disability at 12 months), for the whole cohort and, separately, for those classified with and without nerve root pain. In addition, nested qualitative studies will provide insights on the clinical consultation and the impact of diagnosis and treatment on patients' symptom management and illness trajectory.
Adults aged 18 years and over consulting their General Practitioner (GP) with LBP and radiating leg pain of any duration at (n = 500) GP practices in North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, UK will be invited to participate. All participants will receive a standardised assessment at the clinic by a study physiotherapist and will be classified according to the clinically determined presence or absence of nerve root pain/involvement. All will undergo a lumbar spine MRI scan. All participants will be managed according to their clinical need. The study outcomes will be measured at 4 and 12 months using postal self-complete questionnaires. Data will also be collected each month using brief postal questionnaires to enable detailed description of the course of low back and leg pain over time. Clinical observations and patient interviews will be used for the qualitative aspects of the study.
This prospective clinical observational cohort will combine self-reported data, comprehensive clinical and MRI assessment, together with qualitative enquiries, to describe the course, health care usage, patients' experiences and prognostic indicators in an adult population presenting in primary care with LBP and leg pain with or without nerve root involvement.
PMCID: PMC3293000  PMID: 22264273
15.  Psychosocial factors and their predictive value in chiropractic patients with low back pain: a prospective inception cohort study 
Being able to estimate the likelihood of poor recovery from episodes of back pain is important for care. Studies of psychosocial factors in inception cohorts in general practice and occupational populations have begun to make inroads to these problems. However, no studies have yet investigated this in chiropractic patients.
A prospective inception cohort study of patients presenting to a UK chiropractic practice for new episodes of non-specific low back pain (LBP) was conducted. Baseline questionnaires asked about age, gender, occupation, work status, duration of current episode, chronicity, aggravating features and bothersomeness using Deyo's 'Core Set'. Psychological factors (fear-avoidance beliefs, inevitability, anxiety/distress and coping, and co-morbidity were also assessed at baseline. Satisfaction with care, number of attendances and pain impact were determined at 6 weeks. Predictors of poor outcome were sought by the calculation of relative risk ratios.
Most patients presented within 4 weeks of onset. Of 158 eligible and willing patients, 130 completed both baseline and 6-week follow-up questionnaires. Greatest improvements at 6 weeks were in interference with normal work (ES 1.12) and LBP bothersomeness (ES 1.37). Although most patients began with moderate-high back pain bothersomeness scores, few had high psychometric ones. Co-morbidity was a risk for high-moderate interference with normal work at 6 weeks (RR 2.37; 95% C.I. 1.15–4.74). An episode duration of >4 weeks was associated with moderate to high bothersomeness at 6 weeks (RR 2.07; 95% C.I. 1.19 – 3.38) and negative outlook (inevitability) with moderate to high interference with normal work (RR 2.56; 95% C.I. 1.08 – 5.08).
Patients attending a private UK chiropractic clinic for new episodes of non-specific LBP exhibited few psychosocial predictors of poor outcome, unlike other patient populations that have been studied. Despite considerable bothersomeness at baseline, scores were low at follow-up. In this independent health sector back pain population, general health and duration of episode before consulting appeared more important to outcome than psychosocial factors.
PMCID: PMC1852566  PMID: 17394652
16.  Prognosis of subacute low back pain patients according to pain response 
European Spine Journal  2007;17(1):57-63.
Centralization of referred pain or failure to centralize has in earlier studies been shown to be a predictor of low back pain prognosis. Research suggests that there are differences in how males and females experience pain. The aim of this study was to evaluate the outcome after 1 year, and to evaluate the prognostic value of the pain response in a mechanical test at the first consultation at a spine clinic, and the influence of gender, in order to identify patients with especially high risk of chronicity. The patients in this study were low back pain patients, included consecutively from a spine clinic in Northern Denmark. The criteria for entering this spine clinic were neck or low back pain with radiating symptoms and a duration of 4–26 weeks, without satisfactory improvement after treatment in the primary care system. The 793 patients were categorised into four subgroups according to their pain response in a mechanical test performed at the initial examination: centralization, non-lasting centralization, peripheralization and no effect. The patients were instructed in doing specific exercises according to the test results. The four subgroups were compared after 1 year with regard to changes in back and leg pain, disability and return-to-work status. The statistical evaluation was undertaken for the study group as a whole and stratified according to gender. A significant improvement in all outcome measures was found in all the subgroups, among both men and women. There were no systematic or statistically significant differences in the prognosis between the four subgroups of patients. The proportion of Centralizers in this study was 18%. The mechanical test at baseline is important for deciding the subject-specific exercises, but when treated according to test results, the prognostic value of the test seems limited.
PMCID: PMC2365517  PMID: 17805584
Low back pain; Prognosis; Mechanical diagnosis and therapy; Directional preference; Gender
17.  Perceived physical exertion during healthcare work and prognosis for recovery from long-term pain in different body regions: Prospective cohort study 
The prevalence of musculoskeletal pain is high among healthcare workers. Knowledge about risk factors at work is needed to efficiently target preventive strategies. This study estimates the prognosis for recovery from long-term musculoskeletal pain in different body regions among healthcare workers with different levels of perceived physical exertion during healthcare work.
Prospective cohort study among 4,977 Danish female healthcare workers responding to a baseline and follow-up questionnaire in 2005 and 2006, respectively. We defined long-term pain, short-term pain and pain-free as > 30, 1–30 and 0 days with pain during the last year, and included in the analyses only those with long-term pain at baseline in the low back (N=1,089), neck/shoulder (N=1,400) and knees (N = 579), respectively. Using cumulative logistic regression analysis, the prognosis for recovering from long-term pain at baseline to short-term pain or pain-free at follow-up in the respective body regions when experiencing moderate or light (reference: strenuous) physical exertion during healthcare work was modeled.
Among those with long-term pain at baseline 34% (low back), 29% (neck/shoulders), and 29% (knees) recovered to short-term pain at follow-up and 7% (low back), 8% (neck/shoulders), and 17% (knees) recovered to being pain-free. After adjusting for potential confounders (age, BMI, tenure, smoking status, leisure physical activity and psychosocial work conditions), light perceived physical exertion during healthcare work was associated with improved prognosis for recovery from long-term pain in the low back (OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.01 – 1.99) and neck/shoulders (OR 1.89, 95% CI 1.43 – 2.50), but not in the knees. Moderate physical exertion was not associated with improved prognosis for recovery from long-term pain for any of the body regions.
In the present study, healthcare workers with light perceived physical exertion during healthcare work had the best prognosis for recovery from long-term pain in the low back and neck/shoulders. This suggests that efforts to reduce perceived exertion during work may improve recovery from chronic pain.
PMCID: PMC3540008  PMID: 23253634
Chronic pain; Musculoskeletal disorders; Neck pain; Back pain; Knee pain; Risk factors; Longitudinal; Eldercare
18.  Randomised controlled trial of integrated care to reduce disability from chronic low back pain in working and private life 
Objective To evaluate the effectiveness of an integrated care programme, combining a patient directed and a workplace directed intervention, for patients with chronic low back pain.
Design Population based randomised controlled trial.
Setting Primary care (10 physiotherapy practices, one occupational health service, one occupational therapy practice) and secondary care (five hospitals).
Participants 134 adults aged 18-65 sick listed for at least 12 weeks owing to low back pain.
Intervention Patients were randomly assigned to usual care (n=68) or integrated care (n=66). Integrated care consisted of a workplace intervention based on participatory ergonomics, involving a supervisor, and a graded activity programme based on cognitive behavioural principles.
Main outcome measures The primary outcome was the duration of time off work (work disability) due to low back pain until full sustainable return to work. Secondary outcome measures were intensity of pain and functional status.
Results The median duration until sustainable return to work was 88 days in the integrated care group compared with 208 days in the usual care group (P=0.003). Integrated care was effective on return to work (hazard ratio 1.9, 95% confidence interval 1.2 to 2.8, P=0.004). After 12 months, patients in the integrated care group improved significantly more on functional status compared with patients in the usual care group (P=0.01). Improvement of pain between the groups did not differ significantly.
Conclusion The integrated care programme substantially reduced disability due to chronic low back pain in private and working life.
Trial registration Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN28478651.
PMCID: PMC2840223  PMID: 20234040
19.  The recovery patterns of back pain among workers with compensated occupational back injuries 
To investigate the longitudinal patterns of recovery among workers with compensated occupational back injuries.
A longitudinal cohort study, with one‐year follow‐up via structured telephone interviews, among respondents off work because of “new” back injuries. Self‐reported pain intensity was recorded at baseline and at four follow‐up time points over the course of one year. Workers who answered the questionnaire on at least three occasions (n = 678) were classified into clusters according to their patterns of pain intensity over time using a two‐step cluster analysis.
Four pain recovery patterns were identified: workers with high levels of pain intensity showing no improvement over time (43%); those experiencing recovery in the first four months with no further improvement or possibly even some deterioration, in the second half year (33%); those experiencing a slow consistent recovery but still with considerable back pain at the end of the follow‐up (12%); and those quickly progressing to low level of pain or resolution (12%). Trajectories of average Roland‐Morris Disability scores and SF‐36 Role of Physical scores for above clusters mapped consistently with the corresponding patterns in pain. However, individuals with fluctuating, recurrent pain patterns showed the shortest cumulative duration on 100% benefit and the earliest return‐to‐work among other clusters.
Four clinically sensible patterns were identified in this cohort of injured workers, suggesting inter‐individual differences in back pain recovery. The results confirm that recurrent or chronic back pain is a typical condition in respondents with new back injuries. Pain intensity and disability scores are good measures of recovery of back pain at the individual level. After initial return‐to‐work, or cessation of benefits, administrative measures of percentage of respondents back at work, or no longer on benefits, may not accurately reflect an individual's condition of back pain.
PMCID: PMC2078491  PMID: 17387134
20.  Prognosis of patients with whiplash-associated disorders consulting physiotherapy: development of a predictive model for recovery 
Patients with whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) have a generally favourable prognosis, yet some develop longstanding pain and disability. Predicting who will recover from WAD shortly after a traffic collision is very challenging for health care providers such as physical therapists. Therefore, we aimed to develop a prediction model for the recovery of WAD in a cohort of patients who consulted physical therapists within six weeks after the injury.
Our cohort included 680 adult patients with WAD who were injured in Saskatchewan, Canada, between 1997 and 1999. All patients had consulted a physical therapist as a result of the injury. Baseline prognostic factors were collected from an injury questionnaire administered by Saskatchewan Government Insurance. The outcome, global self-perceived recovery, was assessed by telephone interviews six weeks, three and six months later. Twenty-five possible baseline prognostic factors were considered in the analyses. A prediction model was built using Cox regression. The predictive ability of the model was estimated with concordance statistics (c-index). Internal validity was checked using bootstrapping.
Our final prediction model included: age, number of days to reporting the collision, neck pain intensity, low back pain intensity, pain other than neck and back pain, headache before collision and recovery expectations. The model had an acceptable level of predictive ability with a c-index of 0.68 (95% CI: 0.65, 0.71). Internal validation showed that our model was robust and had a good fit.
We developed a model predicting recovery from WAD, in a cohort of patients who consulted physical therapists. Our model has adequate predictive ability. However, to be fully incorporated in clinical practice the model needs to be validated in other populations and tested in clinical settings.
PMCID: PMC3544579  PMID: 23273330
Prediction; Prognosis; Whiplash-associated disorders; Neck pain; Physical therapy; Cohort; Recovery; Regression; Discrimination
21.  Outcome of low back pain in general practice: a prospective study 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  1998;316(7141):1356-1359.
Objectives: To investigate the claim that 90% of episodes of low back pain that present to general practice have resolved within one month.
Design: Prospective study of all adults consulting in general practice because of low back pain over 12 months with follow up at 1 week, 3 months, and 12 months after consultation.
Setting: Two general practices in south Manchester.
Subjects: 490 subjects (203 men, 287 women) aged 18-75 years.
Main outcome measures: Proportion of patients who have ceased to consult with low back pain after 3 months; proportion of patients who are free of pain and back related disability at 3 and 12 months.
Results: Annual cumulative consultation rate among adults in the practices was 6.4%. Of the 463 patients who consulted with a new episode of low back pain, 275 (59%) had only a single consultation, and 150 (32%) had repeat consultations confined to the 3 months after initial consultation. However, of those interviewed at 3 and 12 months follow up, only 39/188 (21%) and 42/170 (25%) respectively had completely recovered in terms of pain and disability.
Conclusions: The results are consistent with the interpretation that 90% of patients with low back pain in primary care will have stopped consulting with symptoms within three months. However most will still be experiencing low back pain and related disability one year after consultation.
Key messages It is widely believed that 90% of episodes of low back pain seen in general practice resolve within one month In a large population based study we examined the outcome of episodes of low back pain in general practice with respect to both consultation behaviour and self reported pain and disability While 90% of subjects consulting general practice with low back pain ceased to consult about the symptoms within three months, most still had substantial low back pain and related disability Only 25% of the patients who consulted about low back pain had fully recovered 12 months later Since most consulters continue to have long term low back pain and disability, effective early treatment could reduce the burden of these symptoms and their social, economic, and medical impact
PMCID: PMC28536  PMID: 9563990
22.  Non-specific low back pain in primary care in the Spanish National Health Service: a prospective study on clinical outcomes and determinants of management 
The Spanish National Health Service is a universal and free health care system. Non-specific low back pain (LBP) is a prevalent disorder, generating large health and social costs. The objectives of this study were to describe its management in primary care, to assess patient characteristics that influence physicians' decisions, and to describe clinical outcome at 2 months.
A cross-sectional sample of 648 patients with non-specific low back pain was recruited by 75 physicians (out of 361 – 20.8%) working in 40 primary care centers in 10 of the 17 administrative regions in Spain, covering 693,026 out of the 40,499,792 inhabitants. Patients were assessed on the day they were recruited, and prospectively followed-up 14 and 60 days later. The principal patient characteristics that were analyzed were: sex, duration of the episode, history of LBP, working status, severity of LBP, leg pain and disability, and results of straight leg raising test. Descriptors of management were: performance of the straight leg raising test, ordering of diagnostic procedures, prescription of drug treatment, referral to physical therapy, rehabilitation or surgery, and granting of sick leave. Regression analysis was used to analyze the relationship between patients' baseline characteristics and physicians' management decisions. Only workers were included in the models on sick leave.
Mean age (SD) of included patients was 46.5 (15.5) years, 367 (56.6%) were workers, and 338 (52.5%) were females. Median (25th–75th interquartile range) duration of pain when entering the study was 4 (2–10) days and only 28 patients (4.3%) had chronic low back pain. Diagnostic studies included plain radiographs in 43.1% of patients and CT or MRI scans in 18.8%. Drug medication was prescribed to 91.7% of patients, 19.1% were sent to physical therapy or rehabilitation, and 9.6% were referred to surgery. The main determinants of the clinical management were duration of the episode and, to a lesser extent, the intensity of the pain (especially leg pain), a positive straight leg raising test, and degree of disability. The main determinant of sick leave was the degree of disability, followed by the characteristics of the labor contract and the intensity of leg pain (but not low back pain). After at least 2 months of treatment, 37% of patients were still in pain and approximately 10% of patients had not improved or had worsened.
Although the use of X-Rays is high, determinants of physicians' management of LBP in primary care made clinical sense and were consistent with patterns suggested by evidence-based recommendations. However, after 2 months of treatment more than one third of patients continued to have back pain and about 10% had worsened.
PMCID: PMC1479820  PMID: 16707005
23.  “When will I recover?” A national survey on patients’ and physicians’ expectations concerning the recovery time for acute back pain 
European Spine Journal  2009;18(3):419-429.
The objective of this study was to compare patients’ and physicians’ expectations concerning the recovery time for acute back pain, and their determinants. A French national observational survey was performed between October and December 2005. Each physician was asked to include the first three patients aged between 20 and 70 years presenting with acute back pain (VAS > 40 mm) of less than 1 month’s duration. A total number of 1982 patients, with a mean age of 48.4 ± 11.8 years (52.2% men), were enrolled by 834 physicians. Patients and their physicians expected recovery to take the same amount of time in 60.3% of cases (Kappa = 0.43). In 17.4% of cases, patients predicted a shorter recovery time than physicians, and in 22.4% of cases, patients predicted a longer recovery time. Both patients and physicians expected recovery time to be longer in women, and in older, unmarried, obese, and non working patients. Expected recovery time was also longer in patients with no sports activities, low back pain (as opposed to pain at other sites), a high level of disability, a history of back pain, and no triggering factor. The intensity of pain and the number of days of sick leave taken did not affect the patient’s prediction of recovery time, but did affect the physicians’ expectations. Physicians considered professional status, analgesic intake and previous sick leave to be independent predictive factors, whereas patients did not. Expected recovery time, assessed shortly after the onset of acute back pain is influenced by most of the clinical and demographic factors usually considered risk factors for chronic low back pain. Patients’ predictions of recovery time should be assessed in acute back pain, to identify risks for expected chronicity.
PMCID: PMC2899418  PMID: 19132411
Low back pain; Expectations; Patients; Recovery; Physicians
24.  Acute Low Back Pain and Primary Care: How to Define Recovery and Chronification? 
Spine  2011;36(26):2316-2323.
Study Design
Prospective cohort study
to establish outcome measures for recovery and chronic pain for studies with patients that present with recent-onset acute low back pain in primary care
Summary of Background Data
Among back pain researchers, no consensus exists about outcome definitions or how to identify primary-care patients as not-recovered from an episode of low back pain. Cut points for outcome scales have mostly been arbitrarily chosen. Theoretical models for establishing minimal important change (MIC) values in studies of patients with low back pain have been proposed and need to be applied to real data.
In a sample of 521 patients which presented with acute low back pain (<4 weeks) in primary care clinics and were followed for 6 months, scores for pain and disability were compared with ratings on a global perceived effect scale. Using multiple potential “gold standards” as anchors (reference standards), the receiver operating characteristics method was used to determine optimal cut points for different ways of defining non-recovery from acute low back pain.
MIC values and upper limits for pain and disability scores as well as minimal important percent changes are presented for five different definitions of recovery. A previously suggested 30% change from baseline scores does not accurately discriminate between recovered and not recovered patients in patients presenting with acute low back pain in primary care.
Outcome definitions that combine ratings from perceived recovery scales with pain and disability measures provide the highest accuracy in discriminating recovered from non-recovered patients.
PMCID: PMC3100452  PMID: 21311400
Acute low back pain; primary care; outcome definitions; minimal important change; receiver operating characteristics
25.  Systematic reviews of bed rest and advice to stay active for acute low back pain. 
BACKGROUND: In the United Kingdom (UK), 9% of adults consult their doctor annually with back pain. The treatment recommendations are based on orthopaedic teaching, but the current management is causing increasing dissatisfaction. Many general practitioners (GPs) are confused about what constitutes effective advice. AIM: To review all randomized controlled trials of bed rest and of medical advice to stay active for acute back pain. METHOD: A systematic review based on a search of MEDLINE and EMBASE from 1966 to April 1996 with complete citation tracking for randomized controlled trials of bed rest or medical advice to stay active and continue ordinary daily activities. The inclusion criteria were: primary care setting, patients with low back pain of up to 3 months duration, and patient-centred outcomes (rate of recovery from the acute attack, relief of pain, restoration of function, satisfaction with treatment, days off work and return to work, development of chronic pain and disability, recurrent attacks, and further health care use). RESULTS: Ten trials of bed rest and eight trials of advice to stay active were identified. Consistent findings showed that bed rest is not an effective treatment for acute low back pain but may delay recovery. Advice to stay active and to continue ordinary activities results in a faster return to work, less chronic disability, and fewer recurrent problems. CONCLUSION: A simple but fundamental change from the traditional prescription of bed rest to positive advice about staying active could improve clinical outcomes and reduce the personal and social impact of back pain.
PMCID: PMC1410119  PMID: 9474831

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