Negative Outlook Prolongs Back Pain

Avoiding Physical Activity Out of Fear, Apprehension May Worsen Low Back Pain

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on April 06, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

April 6, 2010 -- People who have low back pain may be at increased risk for persistent or disabling symptoms if fear of further injury causes them to avoid physical activity, a new study says.

Low back pain accounts for 2% of office visits in the U.S. Most patients who develop low back pain will have substantial improvement in their pain and function within one month. However, some patients will go on to have chronic low back pain that can persist for several months to years.

Researchers say that people with low back pain are at increased risk for chronic problems if they are in poor general health or have psychiatric illnesses. Additional predictors of future chronic pain include impairment in performing activities of daily living and difficulty coping with pain.

Poor pain coping behaviors include avoidance of work, movement, or other activities out of fear the activities will damage or worsen the back. The researchers also say that some patients tend to have “excessively negative thoughts and statements about the future,” which allows them to rationalize reasons to avoid physical activity or ignore the recommendations of their doctors.

Identification of such tendencies could help guide doctors’ decisions regarding follow-up treatment and management of patients with low back pain, the study says.

Patients who were willing to undergo therapy without fear of reinjury were more likely to be pain free a year later, the researchers say.

Show Sources


Chou, R. Journal of the American Medical Association, April 7, 2010; vol 303: no 13.

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