WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Oct. 6, 2009 -- Got a new case of low back
pain? There's a good chance you'll recover completely within a year, a new
That study, published online in BMJ, included 973 people in Sydney,
Australia who sought care for a new case of low back pain.
The patients were interviewed by phone nine months and one year after
seeking help for their back pain. In those interviews, they were asked how much
back pain they still had and whether their back pain was interfering with their
work (including housework).
Nearly a third of the patients -- 35% -- had recovered completely at
nine months; 42% had recovered completely within a year after their back pain
Low back pain became chronic -- meaning it lasted for at least three months
-- for 259 of the patients. Almost half of them -- 47% -- had recovered
completely within a year.
"Contrary to the view that recovery from an episode of chronic low back pain
is unlikely, we found that an important proportion of patients recovered within
one year," write the researchers, who included Luciola da Menezes Costa, a
graduate student at Australia's University of Sydney.
Costa's team concludes that patients have a "good chance of recovery."
Patients who didn't recover from their back pain within a year were more
likely to have taken sick leave for back pain in the past, to have had higher
levels of disability or intense back pain when their back pain began, to have
lower levels of education, to consider themselves at high risk of persistent
pain, and to be from another country.
The study wasn't about the back pain treatments that
helped them recover; the patients had gone to any of three clinics in Sydney
and saw general practitioners, physiotherapists, or chiropractors.
An editorial published with the study states that patients need to be
followed for longer than a year, and "the challenge remains for researchers to
translate these findings into ... studies that tackle what patients want to
know -- given my symptoms, which treatment will work best for me now and in the
The editorialists included Elaine Hay, MD, professor of community
rheumatology at Keele University in Staffordshire, U.K.
SOURCES:Costa, L. BMJ, Oct. 7, 2009; "Online First" edition.Hay, E. BMJ, Oct. 7, 2009; "Online First" edition.News release, BMJ.
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