Public and patient perceptions of diagnostic labels for non-specific low back pain: a content analysis

Mary O'Keeffe, Zoe A Michaleff, Ian A Harris, Rachelle Buchbinder, Giovanni E Ferreira, Joshua R Zadro, Adrian C Traeger, Rae Thomas, Joletta Belton, Ben Darlow, Chris G Maher

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Abstract

PURPOSE: An online randomised experiment found that the labels lumbar sprain, non-specific low back pain (LBP), and episode of back pain reduced perceived need for imaging, surgery and second opinions compared to disc bulge, degeneration, and arthritis among 1447 participants with and without LBP. They also reduced perceived seriousness of LBP and increased recovery expectations.

METHODS: In this study we report the results of a content analysis of free-text data collected in our experiment. We used two questions: 1. When you hear the term [one of the six labels], what words or feelings does this make you think of? and 2. What treatment (s) (if any) do you think a person with [one of the six labels] needs? Two independent reviewers analysed 2546 responses.

RESULTS: Ten themes emerged for Question1. Poor prognosis emerged for disc bulge, degeneration, and arthritis, while good prognosis emerged for lumbar sprain, non-specific LBP, and episode of back pain. Thoughts of tissue damage were less common for non-specific LBP and episode of back pain. Feelings of uncertainty frequently emerged for non-specific LBP. Twenty-eight treatments emerged for Question2. Surgery emerged for disc bulge, degeneration, and arthritis compared to lumbar sprain, non-specific LBP, and episode of back pain. Surgery did not emerge for non-specific LBP and episode of back pain.

CONCLUSION: Our results suggest that clinicians should consider avoiding the labels disc bulge, degeneration and arthritis and opt for labels that are associated with positive beliefs and less preference for surgery, when communicating with patients with LBP.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Oct 2022

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