Objectives: Because musculoskeletal pain is the second most frequent reason for seeking health care, the aims of this study were to determine the value of psychosocial variables in evaluating risk for developing chronic back pain problems and to develop a screening methodology to identify patients likely to have a poor prognosis.
Study design: A prospective study was conducted on consecutive patients with acute or subacute back pain, in which patients completed a screening questionnaire and were then followed up for 6 months to determine outcome. The primary outcome variable was accumulated sick leave.
Methods: One hundred forty-two consecutive patients were asked to complete a questionnaire designed for this study. This questionnaire contained 24 items concerning psychosocial aspects of the problem. Six months later, patients were contacted to complete outcome questions about accumulated sick leave.
Results: A total of 97% of the patients completed both questionnaires. Although patients, on average, improved greatly, 18% had 1-30 days and 20% had fewer than 30 days of sick leave during the follow-up period. Five variables were found to be the strongest predictors of sick leave outcome (fear-avoidance work beliefs, perceived improvement, problems with work function, stress, and previous sick leave), correctly classifying 73% of the patients as opposed to a chance rate of 33%. A total score was evaluated as a means of judging risk and found to be strongly related to outcome.
Conclusion: Potent psychosocial risk factors associated with future sick absenteeism were identified. Because the total score was related to outcome, the instrument may have use in screening patients with acute or subacute spinal pain in clinical situations.