Consideration of Psychosocial Factors in Acute Low Back Pain by Physical Therapists

J Clin Med. 2023 Jun 5;12(11):3865. doi: 10.3390/jcm12113865.


Clinical guidelines consistently recommend screening psychosocial (PS) factors in patients with low back pain (LBP), regardless of its mechanical nature, as recognized contributors to pain chronicity. However, the ability of physiotherapists (PTs) in identifying these factors remains controversial. This study aimed to assess the current identification of psychosocial risk factors by physical therapists (PTs) and which characteristics of PTs are associated with the identification of the main risk for chronicity (physical or psychosocial). A cross-sectional descriptive study surveying Spanish PTs in public and private health services was conducted, including questions on PT characteristics and three low back pain (LBP) patient vignettes with different biopsychosocial (BPS) clinical presentations. From 484 respondents, the majority of PTs agreed regarding the main risk for chronicity for each vignette (PS 95.7% for vignette A, PS and physical 83.5% for vignette B and PS 66% for vignette C). Female PTs were more likely to rate psychosocial compared with males (p < 0.05). PTs with higher levels of social and emotional intelligence (both, p < 0.05) were more likely to identify the main risk for chronicity. However, only gender and social information processing for vignette A (p = 0.024) and emotional clarity for vignette B (p = 0.006) were able to predict the identification of psychosocial and physical risk, respectively. The main risk for chronicity was correctly identified by a large majority of PTs through patient vignettes. Gender, social and emotional intelligence played a relevant role in the recognition of psychosocial risk and biopsychosocial factors.

Keywords: biopsychosocial models; low back pain; physiotherapy; psychosocial factors; survey.

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.