Long-Term Back Pain Not Inevitable, Study Finds

WEDNESDAY Oct. 7, 2009 -- Good news for people with chronic low back pain: About four in 10 will recover within a year, according to a study that challenges the common belief that recovery from this type of pain is unlikely.

The Australian study included about 400 patients who sought treatment for acute low back pain at primary care clinics and had not recovered after 90 days. Acute low back pain was defined as pain that had lasted more than 24 hours but less than two weeks.

During telephone surveys nine and 12 months later, the patients were asked about their pain and disability levels and work status. Complete recovery was reported by 35 percent of patients within nine months and by 41 percent within a year, the researchers noted.

The findings show that the rate of recovery from chronic low back pain is higher than previously reported and that the prognosis for these patients isn't uniformly poor, said lead study author Dr. Luciola Menezes Costa of the University of Sydney. These findings should prove reassuring for patients because it shows that it's possible to recover from a new episode of low chronic back pain, the researchers added.

The study appears in the Oct. 7 online edition of the BMJ.

While these findings seem encouraging, much longer follow-up of patients with chronic low back pain is needed in order to learn more about how different patterns emerge and in what order, and why some people recover while others have episodic pain for years or long-term constant pain, two researchers from Keele University in the U.K. wrote in an accompanying editorial.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about low back pain.

Posted: October 2009


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