Acute low back pain: Systematic review of its prognosis

Liset H M Pengel, Robert D. Herbert*, Chris G. Maher, Kathryn M. Refshauge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

657 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: To describe the course of acute low back pain and sciatica and to identify clinically important prognostic factors for these conditions. Design: Systematic review. Data sources: Searches of Medline, Embase, Cinahl, and Science Citation Index, and iterative searches of bibliographies. Main outcome measures: Pain, disability, and return to work. Results: 15 studies of variable methodological quality were included. Rapid improvements in pain (mean reduction 58% of initial scores), disability (58%), and return to work (82% of those initially off work) occurred in one month. Further improvement was apparent until about three months. Thereafter levels for pain, disability, and return to work remained almost constant. 73% of patients had at least one recurrence within 12 months. Conclusions: People with acute low back pain and associated disability usually improve rapidly within weeks. None the less, pain and disability are typically ongoing, and recurrences are common.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-325
Number of pages3
JournalBritish Medical Journal
Issue number7410
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2003
Externally publishedYes


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