Predicting Results after Subacute Low Back PainWhat we don't know about back pain could fill volumes. Back pain of unknown cause can be acute (lasting up to three weeks), subacute (four to 12 weeks), or chronic (lasting more than three months). Our understanding and treatment of back pain is based on these three groupings.
Studies have shown that some factors can predict absence from work after an acute episode of low back pain. Knowing what factors predict recovery from chronic back pain would also be helpful. Right now, it's still a mystery. These researchers in Finland are trying to help solve it.
Doctors from the Department of Occupational Medicine recruited 164 adult workers with disabling back pain for this study. All subjects had subacute back pain. The workers were put in one of three different study groups.
Everyone answered questions about sick leave, pain levels, and quality of life. They also told the researchers about their overall satisfaction with medical care. Cost of health care visits was calculated. This included visits to the doctor, nurse, or physical therapist, as well as drugs, hospital care, and X-rays and other imaging studies.
Here's what they found:
The authors conclude that there are several factors best able to predict recovery from subacute back pain. Age and intensity of pain are the two most important predictors. Workers who used sick leave for back pain before are more likely to use sick leave again.
Kaija Karjalainen, MD, et al. Outcome Determinants of Subacute Low Back Pain. In Spine. December 1, 2003. Vol. 28. No. 23. Pp. 2634-2640.
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