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 study shows.
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 began.
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 future?"
The editorialists included Elaine Hay, MD, professor of community rheumatology at Keele University in Staffordshire, U.K.