Easy to Harm, Hard to Heal: Patient views about the Back

This study sought to explore attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions related to low back pain (LBP), and analyze how these might influence the perceived threat related to back pain. Psychological factors which contribute to the perceived threat associated with LBP play an important role in back pain development and the progression to persistent pain and disability. Greater understanding of underlying beliefs may assist clinicians to investigate and assess these factors.Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 12 participants with acute LBP (3 months’ duration). Data were analyzed thematically using the framework of Interpretive Description. The back was viewed as being vulnerable to injury due to its design, the way in which it is used, and personal physical traits or previous injury. As a result participants considered they needed to protect their back by resting, being careful with or avoiding dangerous activities, and strengthening muscles or controlling posture. Participants considered LBP to be special in its nature and impact, and they thought it difficult to understand without personal experience. The prognosis of LBP was considered uncertain by those with acute pain and poor by those with chronic pain. These beliefs combined to create a negative (mis)representation of the back.

Negative assumptions about the back made by those with LBP may affect information processing during an episode of pain. This could lead to an attentional bias toward information indicating the spine is vulnerable, an injury is serious, or the outcome will be poor. Approaching consultations with this understanding may aid clinicians in having a positive influence on beliefs.