Over a third (35%) of patients will recover from chronic low back pain within nine months and four out of 10 (41%) will do so within a year, according to research published on bmj.com today.
This is the first study of its kind and the results go against the common view that recovery from an episode of chronic low back pain is unlikely.
The lead author, Dr Luciola Menezes Costa, from the University of Sydney, says individuals with previous sick leave due to low back pain, high disability levels, low levels of education and being born overseas were more likely to have delayed recovery.
Chronic low back pain is a major health problem, say the authors, and places a huge social and economic burden on society. They also argue that there is currently considerable uncertainty associated with recovery rates.
The participants were drawn from a larger group of 973 patients who attended primary care clinics in Sydney with a new episode of low back pain. These patients had visited their health care provider with acute low back pain (ie, the episode had lasted for more than 24 hours but less than two weeks).
Patients with serious spinal health problems such as cancer, infection, fractures or inflammatory arthritis were excluded from the study. Those who had not recovered by 90 days were considered to have chronic non-specific low back pain and joined the current study.
The researchers followed up 400 patients with chronic non-specific low back pain with a telephone interview assessing pain and disability levels and work status nine and 12 months later. The results reveal that a reasonable number of participants had complete recovery within a year of first developing chronic low back pain (35% by nine months, 41% by one year).
In conclusion, Dr Menezes Costa says that this study is important as it demonstrates that the rate of recovery from chronic low back pain is higher than previously reported and that the findings suggest that the prognosis is not uniformly poor for patients with chronic low back pain.
The authors add that the results should be reassuring for patients as they show that recovery from a new episode of chronic non-specific low back pain is possible.
"My biomechanist has always told me that one of the major causes of back pain is poor posture. I have been working on this by wearing posture correcting shoes and I've found he's right! By improving your posture you really can put an end to chronic back pain! I'm so happy, my life is finally getting back to normal and i can finally start spending time playing with my kids in the garden!" - Rebecca, US