Trajectories of acute low back pain: a latent class growth analysis

Pain. 2016 Jan;157(1):225-234. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000351.


Characterising the clinical course of back pain by mean pain scores over time may not adequately reflect the complexity of the clinical course of acute low back pain. We analysed pain scores over 12 weeks for 1585 patients with acute low back pain presenting to primary care to identify distinct pain trajectory groups and baseline patient characteristics associated with membership of each cluster. This was a secondary analysis of the PACE trial that evaluated paracetamol for acute low back pain. Latent class growth analysis determined a 5 cluster model, which comprised 567 (35.8%) patients who recovered by week 2 (cluster 1, rapid pain recovery); 543 (34.3%) patients who recovered by week 12 (cluster 2, pain recovery by week 12); 222 (14.0%) patients whose pain reduced but did not recover (cluster 3, incomplete pain recovery); 167 (10.5%) patients whose pain initially decreased but then increased by week 12 (cluster 4, fluctuating pain); and 86 (5.4%) patients who experienced high-level pain for the whole 12 weeks (cluster 5, persistent high pain). Patients with longer pain duration were more likely to experience delayed recovery or nonrecovery. Belief in greater risk of persistence was associated with nonrecovery, but not delayed recovery. Higher pain intensity, longer duration, and workers' compensation were associated with persistent high pain, whereas older age and increased number of episodes were associated with fluctuating pain. Identification of discrete pain trajectory groups offers the potential to better manage acute low back pain.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis*
  • Low Back Pain / drug therapy
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Pain Measurement


  • Analgesics