The early identification of factors that increase risk of poor recovery from acute low back pain (LBP) is critical to prevent the transition to chronicity. Although most studies of risk factors for poor outcome in LBP tend to investigate the condition once it is already persistent, there is evidence to suggest that this differs from risk factors measured during the early-acute stage. This study aimed to identify early risk factors for poor outcome in the short- and long-term in individuals with acute LBP, and to compare this with factors identified at 3 months in the same cohort.
One hundred and thirty-three individuals were recruited within 2 weeks of an acute LBP episode and completed questionnaires related to their sociodemographic, psychological, clinical and history/treatment status at baseline and 3 months later, and their pain-level fortnightly for 12 months.
Of the 133 participants recruited, follow-up data was provided by 120 at 3 months, 97 at 6 months, 85 at 9 months and 94 at 12 months. Linear regression identified various factors at baseline (acute phase) and 3 months later that predicted short- and long-term outcome (pain level, change in pain). Key findings were that: (1) depressive symptoms at baseline most consistently predicted worse outcome; (2) psychological factors in general at 3 months were more predictive of outcome than when measured at baseline; (3) early health care utilisation predicted better outcome, whereas use of pain medication later (3 months) predicted worse outcome; and (4) sex and BMI predicted outcome inconsistently over 12-months.
The results highlight the multidimensional nature of risk factors for poor outcome in LBP and the need to consider time variation in these factors.

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