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A Prospective Follow-Up Study of Low Back Pain in the Community

Waxman, Robin, MPH; Tennant, Alan, BSc; Helliwell, Philip, MD, PhD


Study Design. Opportunistic prospective follow-up study.

Objective. To describe the natural history of low back pain in the community and to model the factors predictive of recovered versus persistent low back pain.

Summary of Background Data. A two-phase questionnaire was mailed to adults in the Bradford Metropolitan Health District in 1994. Valid respondents were surveyed again in 1997. Analysis is based on the combined results of these two surveys.

Methods. Unifactorial and multifactorial statistics were analyzed based on 1455 adults, with and without low back pain.

Results. One third of respondents reported no lifetime low back pain. Average lifetime prevalence was 59% and average annual prevalence 41%. Of those who reported lifetime low back pain, 42% reported persistent annual low back pain, 18% reported a first episode in 1997, resulting in a 4% population incidence rate, and 40% reported intermittent low back pain. The likelihood of having had low back pain increased significantly with age. Those who reported a new case of low back pain in 1997 were significantly more likely to be 25–34 years of age, and these persons were most likely to report acute low back pain with very little disability. Those with persistent low back pain were significantly more likely to report chronic low back pain with some disability. Logistic regression modeling was unable to predict recovered versus persistent low back pain, given the person, pain, and treatment factors available.

Conclusions. Results showed that low back pain is a mutable problem with acute episodes blending into longer periods resulting in more disability as time progresses. A wide range of demographic, pain, consultation, and treatment factors were not predictive of low back pain recovery.

From the The Rheumatology and Rehabilitation Research Unit, University of Leeds Research School of Medicine, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom.

Acknowledgment date: September 14, 1999.

Acceptance date: December 22, 1999.

Address reprint requests to

Robin Waxman

RRRU, University of Leeds

36 Clarendon Road, Leeds

West Yorkshire, UK, LS2 9NZ


Device status category: 1.

Conflict of interest category: 12.

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.