Background: A recent review on the natural course of low back pain (LBP) in the general population indicated that the LBP reporting pattern is fairly constant over time. Furthermore, the LBP status at baseline (yes/no) seems to be predictive of the future course. When fluctuations occur, they seem most common between the nearest categories. However, in the majority of articles, non-responders were not taken into account in the analyses or interpretation of data, meaning that estimates may have been biased. Further, all reviewed studies included study participants of many different age groups. Data from three cross-sectional surveys over 8 years of the same cohort made it possible to answer the following questions: 1) Would the prevalence estimates of LBP be stable over time? 2) How would results change when taking into account non-responders? 3) Is the LBP reporting over the three survey periods stable at an individual level, taking into account also the non-responding group?
Methods: Data from three subsequent cross-sectional surveys of a study sample were available and questions about LBP were asked at baseline and also 4 and 8 years later. Study participants were 40/41 years at base-line and initially randomly selected from the general Danish population. Data were analyzed with STATA/IC 12, and presented with percentages and 95% confidence intervals.
Results: The majority of participants reported to have had LBP in the preceding year but not having taken sick leave in relation to this pain. LBP was stable or relatively stable for the study participants as they progressed through their fifth decade. This was true on a population basis and also on an individual level. When non-responders were taken into account the results did not change.
Conclusions: This study confirmed the results from our recent review; both presence and absence of LBP seem to be predictive for the future course. The percentage of non-responders in this type of study may not be as important as previously thought in relation to the presence/absence of LBP.