Purpose: The aim of this study was to assess the clinical course of patients with acute low back pain (LBP) throughout 12 weeks and to identify the prognostic factors for non-recovery in the short term.
Method: A total of 91 patients with acute LBP (<3 weeks) were included in this study. Baseline assessments including demographic variables, clinical characteristics of pain, lost work time and results of clinical examination were noted. Pain intensity, disability, general health perception and depression were assessed according to visual analogue scale, Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ), Nottingham Health Profile (NHP) and Beck Depression Inventory, respectively. Patients were assessed for pain intensity and disability at baseline, and at 1, 2, 4, 8 and 12 weeks of follow-up. Recovery was considered if patients scored <4 on the RMDQ and pain had resolved. At the 2nd week of follow-up, patients were divided into two groups according to recovery (Group 1) or non-recovery (Group 2) to identify the prognostic factors, which were analysed by multiple logistic regression.
Results: At 2 weeks, 52 (57.1%) of the patients had recovered and only eight (8.7%) developed chronic LBP. Mean pain intensity and mean disability scores dropped 96.7 and 96.4%, respectively, of initial levels during the 12 weeks. Sixty per cent of 63 employed patients reported lost time from work. A comparison between groups revealed that finger-floor distance, RMDQ and NHP (pain, physical mobility, emotional reactions, sleep, energy level, and distress subgroups) were statistically significantly lower in Group 1, and NHP-pain was strongly associated with non-recovery in the short term.
Conclusions: Acute LBP patients with disability generally recover in the first weeks. General health perception (NHP) - pain subgroup score was identified in particular as the best prognostic factor for non-recovery in the short term. Hence, pain should be given particular consideration in baseline assessments of acute LBP patients.