The overall aim of this study was to explore the natural course of pain-related fear during the early stage of a new low back pain episode, using a prospective case series design. Specific research questions addressed the existence of typical patterns in individual time series of pain-related fear and sequential relationships between the occurrence of pain-related fear, pain and pain catastrophizing. Forty-four general practice patients who consulted their physician with a new episode of non-specific low back pain were recruited. They completed diaries on pain-related fear, pain and pain catastrophizing for 14 days following the consultation. Follow-up questionnaires on disability were completed at 3 months and 12 months. Time series analyses produced subgroups of patients with descending, stable and rising levels of pain-related fear over the 2-week period. These groups differed on baseline characteristics and outcome at follow-up. A time-shift between the occurrence of pain-events and pain-related fear or pain catastrophizing could not be demonstrated.In summary, these results fit in with previous findings in chronic patients. A relevant subgroup of patients who might benefit from early intervention could be identified. These findings support the need for further research into fear mechanisms in acute low back pain.
Copyright 2002 European Federation of Chapters of the International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.