Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Lower Spine News

Putting a Name to Back Pain

How do you know when you've had a real bout of back pain? Does it count as an episode if it gets better, or if it comes and goes? How do scientists who study back pain define it? This is the focus of a group of researchers in the Netherlands.

They found 1200 papers on low back pain (LBP) using an online search of the National Library of Medicine. Only 31 had an actual definition of low back pain. It would be helpful if researchers and studies used the same definitions.

Through a process of study and group discussion, these researchers offered a series of definitions. If agreed upon, these could be used in future studies. An episode of LBP occurs when pain in the low back lasts more than 24 hours. The patient is pain-free for a month before and after the actual episode.

An episode of care for LBP is defined as one or more visits for medical help. The three months before and after the episode are free of any visits. An episode of work absence because of back pain is a period of work absence with at least one day worked before and one day after back pain.

These terms may still be arbitrary, but much thought has gone into them. If scientists studying back pain agree, acceptance of these definitions could improve research results. This will make it possible to compare results of many studies.


Henrica C. W. de Vet, PhD, et al. Episodes of Low Back Pain. A Proposal for Uniform Definitions to Be Used in Research. In Spine. November 1, 2002. Vol. 27. No. 21. Pp. 2409-2416.

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*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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