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Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Jan 15;61(1):124-31. doi: 10.1002/art.24162.

Recovery: what does this mean to patients with low back pain?

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  • 1Stanford University, Stanford, California, and The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.



To explore patients' perceptions of recovery from low back pain, about which little is known.


A qualitative study was conducted in which 36 participants, either recovered or unrecovered from low back pain, participated in focus groups. Interviews were audiorecorded and transcribed verbatim. Framework analysis was used to identify emergent themes and domains of recovery.


Patients' views of recovery encompassed a range of factors that can be broadly classified into the domains of symptom attenuation, improved capacity to perform a broad scope of self-defined functional activities, and achievement of an acceptable quality of life. An interactive model is proposed to describe the relationships between these domains, cognitive appraisal of the pain experience, and self-rated recovery. Pain attenuation alone was not a reliable indicator of recovery.


The construct of recovery for typical back pain patients seeking primary care is more complex than previously recognized and is a highly individual construct, determined by appraisal of the impact of symptoms on daily functional activities as well as quality of life factors. These findings will be valuable for reassessing how to optimize measures of recovery from low back pain by addressing the spectrum of factors patients consider meaningful.

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