Objective: To identify subgroups of patients with work-related back pain based on disability risk factors.
Methods: Patients with work-related back pain (N = 528) completed a 16-item questionnaire of potential disability risk factors before their initial medical evaluation. Outcomes of pain, functional limitation, and work disability were assessed 1 and 3 months later.
Results: A K-Means cluster analysis of 5 disability risk factors (pain, depressed mood, fear avoidant beliefs, work inflexibility, and poor expectations for recovery) resulted in 4 sub-groups: low risk (n = 182); emotional distress (n = 103); severe pain/fear avoidant (n = 102); and concerns about job accommodation (n = 141). Pain and disability outcomes at follow-up were superior in the low-risk group and poorest in the severe pain/fear avoidant group.
Conclusions: Patients with acute back pain can be discriminated into subgroups depending on whether disability is related to pain beliefs, emotional distress, or workplace concerns.