Sensible advice for aches, pains & injuries
bibliography * The PainScience Bibliography contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers and others sources, like a specialized blog. This page is about a single scientific paper in the bibliography, Costa 2009.

Chronic low back pain is not so chronic

Costa Ld, Maher CG, McAuley JH, Hancock MJ, Herbert RD, Refshauge KM, Henschke N. Prognosis for patients with chronic low back pain: inception cohort study. BMJ. 2009 Oct;339:b3829. PubMed #19808766.
Tags: prog, good news, back pain, pain problems, spine

PainSci summary of Costa 2009?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided at the bottom of the page, as often as possible. ★★★★☆?4-star ratings are for bigger/better studies and reviews published in more prestigious journals, with only quibbles. Ratings are a highly subjective opinion, and subject to revision at any time. If you think this paper has been incorrectly rated, please let me know.

This Australian study concluded that “prognosis is moderately optimistic for patients with chronic low back pain,” contradicting the common fear that any low back pain that lasts longer than 6-9 weeks will become a long-term chronic problem. This evidence is the first of its kind, a rarity in low back pain research, a field where almost everything has been studied to death. “Many studies provide good evidence for the prognosis of acute low back pain,” the authors explain. “Relatively few provide good evidence for the prognosis of chronic low back pain.”

Their research differs from past studies of chronic low back pain, which tended to focus on patients who already had a well-established track record of long-term problems (in other words, the people who had already drawn the short straw before they were selected for study, and are likely to carry right on feeling rotten). Instead they studied new cases of chronic low back pain, and found that “more than one third” recovered within nine more months. This evidence is a great foundation for more substantive and lasting reassurance for low back pain patients.

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract

OBJECTIVES: To describe the course of chronic low back pain in an inception cohort and to identify prognostic markers at the onset of chronicity.

DESIGN: Inception cohort study with one year follow-up.

SETTING: Primary care clinics in Sydney, Australia.

PARTICIPANTS: The study sample was a subcohort of an inception cohort of 973 consecutive patients presenting to primary care with acute low back pain (<2 weeks' duration). 406 participants whose pain persisted for three months formed the inception cohort of patients with chronic low back pain.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Outcomes and putative predictors measured at initial presentation, onset of chronicity (study entry), and follow-up at nine and 12 months. Recovery was determined from measures of pain intensity, disability, and work status. The association between potential prognostic factors and time to recovery was modelled with Cox regression.

RESULTS: Completeness of follow-up was 97% of total person time for all outcomes. The cumulative probability of being pain-free was 35% at nine months and 42% at 12 months and for complete recovery was 35% at nine months and 41% at 12 months. Of the 259 participants who had not recovered from pain related disability at entry to the chronic study, 47% had recovered by 12 months. Previous sick leave due to low back pain, high disability levels or high pain intensity at onset of chronicity, low levels of education, greater perceived risk of persistent pain, and being born outside Australia were associated with delayed recovery.

CONCLUSION: More than one third of patients with recent onset, non-radicular chronic low back pain recover within 12 months. The prognosis is less favourable for those who have taken previous sick leave for low back pain, have high disability levels or high pain intensity at onset of chronic low back pain, have lower education, perceive themselves as having a high risk of persistent pain, and were born outside Australia.

related content

These four articles on cite Costa 2009 as a source:

This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights: