The clinical course of pain and function in older adults with a new primary care visit for back pain

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2015 Mar;63(3):524-30. doi: 10.1111/jgs.13241. Epub 2015 Mar 6.


Objectives: To report the clinical course of older adults presenting for a new primary care visit for back pain, no healthcare visit for back pain within the prior 6 months, by describing pain intensity, disability, pain interference, and resolution of back pain over 12 months.

Design: Prospective inception cohort study.

Setting: Primary care settings of three integrated healthcare systems in the United States that participated in the Back pain Outcomes using Longitudinal Data (BOLD) registry.

Participants: Five thousand two hundred eleven (99.5%) of the 5,239 adults aged 65 and older who had reached their 12-month follow-up date.

Measurements: Baseline demographic characteristics, EQ-5D score, duration of back pain, expectation for recovery, depression, and anxiety. Participant-reported outcomes of back-related disability (Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire), numerical pain rating scale, pain interference, and resolution of back pain were collected at baseline and 3, 6, and 12 months.

Results: Most improvement occurred within the first 3 months. The number and proportion with 30% improvement in back pain increased from 1,950 (42.3%) at 3 months to 1,994 (44.8%) by 12 months, and 1,331 (28.8%) and 1,576 (35.4%) had 30% improvement in disability at 3 and 12 months. Only 23.0% reported that their back pain had resolved at 12 months. Improvements in disability and interference with activity over 12 months differed according to age, duration of back pain, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and expectation for recovery.

Conclusion: The majority of older adults in primary care practice settings presenting with a new visit for back pain have persistent symptoms, disability, and interference over 12 months of follow-up. Future research is needed to identify risk factors for persistent symptoms and effective interventions.

Keywords: back pain; disability; older adults; prognosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Back Pain* / complications
  • Back Pain* / diagnosis
  • Back Pain* / physiopathology
  • Back Pain* / therapy
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disabled Persons
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Primary Health Care
  • Prospective Studies