Objective: To determine the frequency and the characteristics of low back pain (LBP) recurrences. The research questions were as follows: (1) Are LBP recurrences common? (2) Do episodes worsen with multiple recurrences? (3) Does pain change location in any recognizable pattern during an episode?
Design: Single-page self-administered questionnaire.
Setting: Thirty clinical practices (primary care, physical therapy, chiropractic, and surgical spine) in North America and Europe.
Patients: A convenience sample of 589 respondents with LBP. There were no exclusions based on type of LBP, history of onset, or comorbidities.
Methods: The survey was distributed during patients' assessment or initial treatment at their respective clinics. The survey queried the following: (1) the severity of original versus most recent episodes based on the following: pain intensity, interference with leisure and work activities, duration of episodes, and most distal extent of pain; and (2) changes in pain location within episodes.
Results: In response to research question 1, a previous episode was reported by 73%; of those, 66.1% reported their first episode lasted ≤3 months, 54% reported ≥10 episodes, and 19.4% reported >50 episodes. In response to research question 2, of those with recurrences, 61.1% reported that at least one of the survey domains was worse in recent episodes (P < .01) and only 36.9% reported that they were better; 20.5% were worse in all domains, whereas 8.6% were better or the same. In response to research question 3, the pain location changed during the episode in 75.6%; of these, 63.2% reported that their pain first spread distally before retreating proximally during recovery; there was a strong trend toward those reporting worsening episodes also reporting proximal-to-distal-to-proximal changes in pain location during their episodes (r = 0.132, P < .06).
Conclusion: Recurrent LBP episodes were common and numerous. Recurrences often worsened over time. It seems inappropriate to characterize the typical course of LBP as benign and favorable.
Copyright © 2012 American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.