Exploration of physicians' recommendations for activities in chronic low back pain

James Rainville, Nels Carlson, Peter Polatin, Robert Joseph Gatchel, Aage Indahl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


Study Design. A mailed survey of 142 practicing physicians (63 orthopedic spine surgeons and 79 family physicians) inquiring about their expertise and experience with chronic low back pain, their pain attitudes and beliefs, and recommendations about the appropriate level of function for chronic back pain patients. Objectives. To explore physicians' recommendations for activity and work for patients with chronic low back pain and to determine factors that might influence these recommendations. Summary of Background Data. Physicians continuously are asked to recommend the appropriate level of activities and work for patients with chronic low back pain. Although these recommendations can have a significant impact on patients' lives, little is known about the factors that shape recommendations. Methods. Mailed surveys included questions inquiring about the physicians' demographics, training, and experience in low back pain, the Health Care Providers' Pain and Impairment Relationship Scale, and three vignettes of work-disabled, chronic low back pain patients. After each vignette, physicians rated their perceptions of severity of symptoms and pathology and recommendations for work and daily activities through five graded responses. Three mailings were done within 4 weeks to maximize the response rate. The association of each variable with work and activity recommendations was statistically explored. To assess the influence of clinical expertise on recommendations, the responses of orthopedic spine surgeons were compared with those of family physicians. Test-retest reliability was assessed with a second mailing of the questionnaire to all initial responders. Results. Sixty-five percent of the orthopedic surgeons and 52% of the family physicians responded to the survey. Thirty-nine percent of the initial responders completed the reliability survey. The survey instrument demonstrated modest reliability, with identical recommendations for activities and work occurring 57% of the time. In general, a wide range of activities and work was recommended, with most physicians recommending avoidance of painful activities or greater restrictions. Orthopedic spine surgeons were slightly less restrictive in their activity recommendations compared with family physicians. Most physicians demonstrated some consistency in their pattern of recommendations when compared with their colleagues. Physicians' pain attitudes and belief influenced their recommendations, as did their perception of the severity of the patients' clinical symptoms. Conclusions. Physicians' recommendations for activity and work to patients with chronic back pain vary widely and frequently are restrictive. These recommendations reflect personal attitudes of the physicians as well as factors related to the patients' clinical symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2210-2220
Number of pages11
Issue number17
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2000


  • Attitudes and beliefs
  • Disability
  • Low back pain
  • Recommendations


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