Pain trajectories and possible predictors of a favourable course of low back pain in patients consulting musculoskeletal physicians in The Netherlands

Wouter Schuller*, Raymond W. Ostelo, Daphne C. Rohrich, Martijn W. Heymans, Henrica C. W. de Vet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: In The Netherlands, low back pain patients can consult physicians specialized in musculoskeletal (MSK) medicine. Previous studies have reported on the characteristics of patients consulting MSK physicians, and the treatment options used. There are no studies yet reporting on the course of Low Back Pain (LBP) after treatment by musculoskeletal (MSK) physicians in The Netherlands. Methods: In an observational cohort study MSK physicians recorded data about all low back pain patients presenting for a first consultation. At baseline they recorded age, gender, type and duration of the main complaint, and concomitant complaints. At the end of treatment they recorded the type of treatment and the number of treatment sessions. Patients were recruited to answer questionnaires at baseline, and at 6-weekly intervals during a follow-up period of six months. Patient questionnaires included information about previous medical consumption, together with PROMs measuring the level of pain and functional status. Latent Class Growth Analysis (LCGA) was used to classify patients into different groups according to their pain trajectories. Baseline variables were evaluated as predictors of a favourable trajectory using logistic regression analyses, and treatment variables were evaluated as possible confounders. Results: A total of 1377 patients were recruited, of whom 1117 patients (81%) answered at least one follow-up measurement. LCGA identified three groups of patients with distinct pain trajectories. A first group (N = 226) with high pain levels showed no improvement, a second group (N = 578) with high pain levels showed strong improvement, and a third group (N = 313) with mild pain levels showed moderate improvement. The two groups of patients presenting with high baseline pain scores were compared, and a multivariable model was constructed with possible predictors of a favourable course. Male gender, previous specialist visit, previous pain clinic visit, having work, a shorter duration of the current episode, and a longer time since the complaints first started were predictors of a favourable course. The multivariable model showed a moderate area under the curve (0.68) and a low explained variance (0.09). Conclusions: In low back pain patients treated by musculoskeletal physicians in The Netherlands three different pain trajectories were identified. Baseline variables were of limited value in predicting a favourable course.
Original languageEnglish
Article number38
JournalChiropractic and Manual Therapies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021

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