Trajectories and predictors of the long-term course of low back pain: cohort study with 5-year follow-up
Low back pain (LBP) is a major health challenge globally. Research has identified common trajectories of pain over time. We aimed to investigate whether trajectories described in 1 primary care cohort can be confirmed in another, and to determine the prognostic value of factors collected 5 years prior to the identification of the trajectory. The study was conducted on 281 patients who had consulted primary care for LBP, at that point completed a baseline questionnaire, and then returned a questionnaire at 5-year follow-up plus at least 3 (of 6) subsequent monthly questionnaires. Baseline factors were measured using validated tools. Pain intensity scores from the 5-year follow-up and monthly questionnaires were used to assign participants into 4 previously derived pain trajectories (no or occasional mild, persistent mild, fluctuating, and persistent severe), using latent class analysis. Posterior probabilities of belonging to each cluster were estimated for each participant. The posterior probabilities for the assigned clusters were very high (>0.90) for each cluster except for the smallest “fluctuating” cluster (0.74). Lower social class and higher pain intensity were significantly associated with a more severe trajectory 5 years later, as were patients' perceptions of the greater consequences and longer duration of pain, and greater passive behavioural coping. Low back pain trajectories identified previously appear generalizable. These allow better understanding of the long-term course of LBP, and effective management tailored to individual trajectories needs to be identified.