Study design: Three hundred patients, attending their general practitioners with attacks of acute low back pain, formed the subject population for a study of fear avoidance and other variables in the prediction of chronicity. Follow-up was at 2 and 12 months.
Objective: The hypothesis to be tested was that evidence of psychological morbidity, particularly fear-avoidance behavior, would be manifest from the outset of the presenting attack in susceptible subjects.
Summary of background data: While back pain is an almost universal human experience, only about 5% of sufferers seek medical advice. Most of these respond to conservative treatment. However, approximately 10% of those who experience an acute attack of low back pain go on to become chronic sufferers.
Methods: Psychosocial and physiological data (including fear-avoidance measures) were collected from a sample of 300 acute low back pain patients within 1 week of presentation and at 2 months, to try to predict 12 month outcome.
Results: Data analysis showed that subjects who had not recovered by 2 months were those who went on to become chronic low back pain patients (7.3%). Using multiple regression analyses, fear-avoidance variables were the most successful in predicting outcome. Using multiple discriminant function analyses, the results suggest that the outcome in terms of the future course of low back pain can be correctly classified in 66% from fear-avoidance variables alone and in 88% of patients from all variables.
Conclusions: The results suggest that, at the earliest stage of low back pain, fear of pain should be identified by clinicians and, where this is severe, pain confrontation should arguably form part of the approach to treatment.