Workers' perspectives on low back pain recurrence: "It comes and goes and comes and goes, but it's always there"

Although various measures of low back pain (LBP) recurrence have been proposed, none have been tested to determine if they are consistent with what those with LBP perceive a "recurrence" to be. To further the understanding of LBP recurrence and how to measure it, we examined how individuals with a history of LBP describe their back pain experiences. A qualitative approach was chosen and six mixed-gender focus groups were conducted. Discussions were facilitated by two researchers and structured around predetermined questions. All four authors were involved in the data analysis and thematic congruence was achieved through an iterative process of coding and discussion. Participants included 31 individuals (14 female, 17 male), with ages ranging from early 20s to mid 70s. When asked about LBP recurrence, participants had difficulty understanding the concept. There was a sense that, although the pain may disappear, the condition was always there. Three states were defined: "normal," "flared-up," and "attack." "Normal" could include experiencing pain, but generally represented a tolerable state. "Flared-up" was associated with increased pain, the use of strategies to overcome difficulties, and modified participation. "Attack" state was described as severely disabled: "I just have to lay there." Participants described their experiences in a way that is consistent with the idea that LBP is a fluctuating and disabling health condition. Results cast doubt on the validity of currently available measures of LBP recurrence. Focusing on recurrence of pain without consideration of broader contextual factors will result in an incomplete understanding of the meaning of the pain experience.


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