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Br J Gen Pract. May 1999; 49(442): 358–362.
PMCID: PMC1313420

Is chronic non-specific low back pain chronic? Definitions of a problem and problems of a definition.

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Chronic low back pain (LBP) accounts for the majority of the disability and costs for LBP. However, the definition of chronicity is unclear. AIM: To elicit practitioners' definitions of chronic LBP patients, both in general and in the patients they were treating; to assess the most common characteristics of these practitioners' chronic LBP patients; and to assess the stability of chronicity in a sample of the general population. METHOD: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 33 practitioners working in private practice, 71 LBP patients and their therapists, and 252 employees of a chain store who were assessed yearly in a prospective study. RESULTS: The therapists' definitions of chronic LBP patients generally included psychosocial aspects. Only physical symptoms and signs were stressed in the patients they were treating. These patients displayed common characteristics with reference to pain, functional problems, and contact with health care services. Duration of symptoms was not sufficient to define chronicity. In the employee population, chronicity defined according to pain duration was unstable. However, the same was true when chronicity was measured according to the criteria defined in the patient population. CONCLUSION: There is a discrepancy between theory and practice regarding the definition of chronic LBP. This discrepancy concerns not only the literature but also clinical practice itself. The term 'chronic' LBP as currently used is therefore equivocal.

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Selected References

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