This study evaluated a theoretically and empirically based model of the progression of acute neck and back pain to chronic pain and disability, developed from the literature in chronic pain, cognition, and stress and trauma. Clinical information and standardized psychosocial measures of cumulative traumatic events exposure (TLEQ), depressed mood (CES-D), pain (DDS), physical disability (PDI), and pain beliefs (PBPI) were collected at baseline from 84 acute back pain patients followed at an Acute Back Clinic over 3 months. Path analysis was used for the longitudinal prediction of perceived pain and disability. The predictive model accounted for 26% of the variance in persistent pain intensity and 58% of the variance in perceived physical disability at 3 months. Greater exposure to past traumatic life events and depressed mood were most predictive of chronic pain; depressed mood and negative pain beliefs were most predictive of chronic disability. More cumulative traumatic life events, higher levels of depression in the early stages of a new pain episode, and early beliefs that pain may be permanent significantly contribute to increased severity of subsequent pain and disability. Replication in a larger sample is desirable to confirm these paths. Early detection of elevated depressive symptoms and high trauma exposure may identify individuals at greater risk for developing chronic pain syndromes who may benefit from early multidisciplinary intervention.