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Easy to Harm, Hard to Heal: Patient Views About the Back


Tags: back pain, biomechanics, mind, pain problems, spine, etiology, pro

One article on PainSci cites Darlow 2015: The Functional Movement Screen (FMS)

PainSci summary of Darlow 2015: ?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.

Interviews with 23 back pain patients (acute and chronic) revealed a strong theme of concern about the vulnerability of the back “due to its design, the way in which it is used, and personal physical traits or previous injury.” They considered back pain to be “special in its nature and impact.” The authors suspect that patient probably focus on information that seems to confirms their fear that the back is fragile or that their injury serious — such as MRI results — while ignoring and minimizing reassuring evidence.

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

STUDY DESIGN: Qualitative interview study.

OBJECTIVE: Explore attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions related to low back pain (LBP) and analyze how these might influence the perceived threat associated with back pain.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Psychological factors that contribute to the perceived threat associated with LBP play an important role in back pain development and the progression to persistent pain and disability. Improved understanding of underlying beliefs may assist clinicians to investigate and assess these factors.

METHODS: Semistructured qualitative interviews were conducted with 12 participants with acute LBP (<6-wk duration) and 11 participants with chronic LBP >3 mo duration). Data were analyzed thematically using the framework of Interpretive Description.

RESULTS: The back was viewed as being vulnerable to injury due to its design, the way in which it is used, and personal physical traits or previous injury. Consequently, participants considered that they needed to protect their back by resting, being careful with or avoiding dangerous activities, and strengthening muscles or controlling posture. Participants considered LBP to be special in its nature and impact, and they thought it difficult to understand without personal experience. The prognosis of LBP was considered uncertain by those with acute pain and poor by those with chronic pain. These beliefs combined to create a negative (mis)representation of the back.

CONCLUSION: Negative assumptions about the back made by those with LBP may affect information processing during an episode of pain. This may result in attentional bias toward information indicating that the spine is vulnerable, an injury is serious, or the outcome will be poor. Approaching consultations with this understanding may assist clinicians to have a positive influence on beliefs.


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: