Chronic low back pain in general practice: The challenge of the consultation

Carolyn Chew-Graham, Carl May

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Background. Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is a symptom commonly presented to GPs, accounting for a significant proportion of their workload. It is also a common reason for sickness absence, and thus of national economic importance. Objectives. This qualitative study aimed to provide an understanding of how GPs understood CLBP, how they approached the consultation with CLBP patients and how they conceptualized the management of this problem. Method. Qualitative research techniques were employed. Twenty GPs working in North-West England were interviewed. Interviews were semi-structured and recorded on audio-tape. Transcripts of these interviews were then subjected to constant comparative qualitative analysis. Results. Subjects described their difficulties in responding to and managing CLBP. They acknowledged the link between CLBP and psychological distress, and that it legitimizes long-standing illness behaviour. They were pessimistic about the chances for successful cure or palliation of CLBP. Conclusion. Subjects seemed to be cognisant of collusion between doctor and patient, in cases where the patient's explanatory model of back pain is not challenged. We argue that this can be accounted for by the patient operating within a physical model of pain causation, while doctors operate using a model that stresses psychosocial factors. The incommensurability of these models lies at the root of the CLBP consultation as a problem.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)46-49
    Number of pages3
    JournalFamily practice
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1999


    • Chronic low back pain
    • Doctor-patient relationship
    • Illness behaviour
    • Sickness absence


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