Background: Most people experience low back pain (LBP) at least once in their lifetime. Only a minority of them go on to develop persistent LBP. However, the socioeconomic costs of persistent LBP significantly exceed the costs of the initial acute LBP episode.
Aims: To identify factors that influence the progression of acute LBP to the persistent state at an early stage.
Methods: Prospective inception cohort study of patients attending a health practitioner for their first episode of acute LBP or recurrent LBP after a pain free period of at least 6 months. Patients were assessed at baseline addressing occupational and psychological factors as well as pain, disability, quality of life and physical activity and followed up at 3, 6, 12 weeks and 6 months. Variables were combined to the three indices 'working condition', 'depression and maladaptive cognitions' and 'pain and quality of life'.
Results: The index 'depression and maladaptive cognitions' was found to be a significant baseline predictor for persistent LBP up to 6 months (OR 5.1; 95% CI: 1.04-25.1). Overall predictive accuracy of the model was 81%.
Conclusions: In this study of patients with acute LBP in a primary care setting psychological factors at baseline correlated with a progression to persistent LBP up to 6 months. The benefit of including factors such as 'depression and maladaptive cognition' in screening tools is that these factors can be addressed in primary and secondary prevention.