Background: Low back pain (LBP) is one of the most frequent reasons patients seek consultations in primary care, and it is a major cause of disability. Our research examines the natural history of LBP and the prediction of chronicity in the context of patients presenting to family medicine clinics.
Methods: We performed a prospective cohort study of new episodes of LBP within the framework of a national family practice research network. The setting was 28 primary care family practice clinics located throughout Israel. Of 238 eligible subjects, 219 (92%) completed the study.
Results: During the 2-month study period, 2 subjects were referred to the emergency department and discharged, and 2 others were hospitalized. Forty-five percent did not require bed rest, and 38% of the employed were not absent from work. Seventy-one percent showed improvement in functional status; however, only 37% noted complete pain relief. Clinical and demographic data usually did not predict LBP-episode outcomes. The strongest predictors of chronicity were depression, history of job change due to LBP in the past, history of back contusion, lack of social support, family delegitimization of patient's pain, dissatisfaction with first office visit, family history of LBP or other chronic pain, coping style, and unemployment.
Conclusions: The cohort patients displayed a relatively benign natural history of LBP, matched by benign clinical behavior from their physicians. In Israeli primary health care, acute LBP is infrequently associated with hospitalization or prolonged work absenteeism. Although most patients have functional improvement, pain often lingers. Almost all predictors of chronicity are psychosocial.